Wellcome Library loans swastikas and squiggles to the Science Museum

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By | Events and Visits

Submarines, tanks, swastikas and squiggles are probably not the first things that come to mind when envisaging the material held in the Wellcome Library, but that’s exactly what is contained within the Melanie Klein and Donald Winncott archives that are deposited here. Now, a number of these items have gone on loan to the Science Museum’s new exhibition, ‘Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious in Everyday Life’.

Melanie Klein was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who had a significant impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis. The material on loan to the Science Museum consists of a series of drawings by ‘Richard’, a boy of eight who had many sessions with Klein and is one of her most famous case studies.

Dating from the early years of World War II, the drawings depict Nazi submarines surrounded by schools of large yellow fish, tanks, numerous explosions, and dogfights between British and German planes.

Even for the untrained eye, it is easy to deduce that this young boy was deeply affected by the events occurring on the world stage at that time. Indeed, on reading more on the subject, one is told that ‘Richard’s psychopathology centred on the Oedipus complex and projected the figure of Adolf Hitler onto his father’.

The naivety of the drawings – some in grey pencil, others more vividly coloured in – coupled with their small size (similar to a postcard) and the flimsy paper they are drawn on contributes to the feelings of poignancy and fragility surrounding them.

Donald Winnicott was another British psychoanalyst who worked extensively with troubled young people. He believed in using the idea of play during his consultations with patients; his ‘Squiggle drawings’ are an example of this. He would draw a shape and ask the child to add to it and make something out of it. Two of these ‘squiggles’, along with two other drawings by Winnicott called ‘Stella‘ and ‘Tak‘, have also been lent to the exhibition.

Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious in Everyday Life’ runs from 13 October 2010 to 2 April 2011 at the Science Museum, London.

Author: Rowan de Saulles

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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