Tom Seidmann Freud

Artist, Writer, Illustrator

Tom Seidmann Freud (1892-1930)

Tom Seidmann Freud, nee Martha Freud, a children's book illustrator and author celebrated for her deceptively simple yet modern style. An eccentric niece of Sigmund Freud, she was born in Vienna in 1892 and moved with her family nine years later to Berlin. She was an artistically gifted and intendent child, and at fifteen changed her name to Tom (allegedly to avoid sexism she might encounter as a female artist). She eventually studied art, first in London and then in Berlin and in Munich, where she focused on Art Nouveau illustration.

From 1914 to her death at thirty-eight in 1930, she published nearly a dozen books of her own and contributed illustrations to others. Today, nearly one hundred years late, her artwork looks surprisingly contemporary with its simple, folk art aesthetic and fantastical story lines about rabbit words, talking fish, and magic boats. Her illustrations are childish but not babyish, and surreal while also being thoughtful and narrative.

Artist, Writer, Illustrator

Strikingly fresh in its day, Seidmann-Freud's work was an example of how seriously people took children's literature as an art form. While Seidmann-Freud wrote, and illustrated her own stories, she also illustrated classical fairy tales, such as those by Brothers Rimm and Hanns Christian Andersen, in her Ten Tales for Children. She released her most well-known children's book, Die Fishreise (The Fish's Journey), in 1923.

Seidmann-Freud created her illustrations using the ancient pochoir technique that was experiencing a revival.  She drew the figures, foreground, and background with ink and then overlaid watercolors using stencils. Seidmann-Freud experimented with several different kinds of children's books, including ABC books, songbooks, game books, and movable books such as Das Wunderhaus (The House of Wonders, 1927) and Das Zauberboot (The Magic Boat, 1929), subtitled "a book to Turn and Move." She also produced a series of counting books known for their typographical innovation, one of which was chosen for the Museum of Modern art's 2012 exhibition Century of the child: Growing by Design, 19000-2000, in New York.

Artist, Writer, Illustrator

In the early 1920s, she and her husband, writer and journalist Jakob Seidmann, founded publishing house Perergrin Verlag in Berlin. It was named after the main character in The Fish's Journey, who seeks to overcome his outsider status by escaping to a dreamlike utopia. Tragically, the demise of their publishing venture in the wake of 2919 global financial collapse led to her husband's suicide, and in 1920, to her own. (Their seven-year-old daughter, Angela, went to live with Tom's sister, the actress Lily Freud, and her husband in Hamburg, before they all moved to Prague in 1939. Angela, (Aviva) emigrated to Israel just before the outbreak if Word War II).

Artist, Writer, Illustrator

Seidmann-Freud died the same year that the liberal democracy in Germany, the Weimar Republic, started its frenzied downward descent. Until Hitler took dictatorial control in 1933, her work continued to receive accolades from her peers, including the legendary literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin. Because she was Jewish, however, by 1933 her books began to disappear.

Despite the Nazis destruction of "suspect" literature, and her untimely death, copies of her innovative children's books have survived as an important part of the history of avant-garde book-making in twentieth century Europe.

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