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  • A Psychoanalyst’s Gift: Lillian Malcove as Collector
  • Mary Kay O’Neil (bio)


Like Freud, many psychoanalysts have collected art and antiquities, taking much personal pleasure in their collections. As Kuspit noted in 1991, much has been written about the psychoanalytic interpretation of visual art—“insights about artists, art work, and art audience have been incorporated in art discourse” (pp. 1)—most of which is passionate, partisan and political. In fact, the relationship between art and psychoanalysis has a long history; Ernst Kris (1952), among others, was a pioneer in combining expertise in both areas. There is, however, a paucity of discourse on the psychodynamics of collecting, and the analyst as collector has not appeared in the psychoanalytic literature. Even Freud, aside from a few comments, did not open his own passionate hobby of collecting to systematic and detailed analysis. What has been written by analysts has been learned clinically from patients and focuses primarily on the pathological aspects of collecting.

Subkowski (2006), nevertheless, outlined criteria for a collection and a collector. His criteria included: the selection of objects with subjective value in a definable area(s) and an attempt at completion; the collector is affectively, passionately involved in the collection, has an interest in relevant background literature, and behaves consistently over time. Subkowski then considered the psychodynamics of collecting. Recognizing that there are no clear boundaries, he related modes of collecting to various structural levels and states of regression. He asserted that integrated or non-pathological forms of collecting result from the depressive position and attempt to repair the lost and [End Page 611] damaged object on a symbolic level and to make reparation for one’s own destructive impulses. This type of collector is well aware that the collection will never be complete—that is, on an unconscious level, it can never take the place of the actual lost object (Subkowski, 2006, p. 391). The collection does not have to be an obstacle to relating to the outside world, but can be a transitional object. The analyst who collects is simply a person who happens to be a collector. However, just as the person and the collection are not separate, each analyst has a particular way of working and perhaps the person, the analyst, and the collector are not separate, but ideally, integrated.

This paper examines the life of an unusual psychoanalyst and collector, Lillian Malcove. By chance, I became aware that her collection had surprisingly come to the University of Toronto and also that Dr. Malcove was remarkable in several ways. First, she was a woman collector and it is known that women tend to collect less frequently than men1. Unlike wealthy women collectors such as Peggy Guggenheim (1983) and Isabella Stewart Gardner (Tharp, 1965), Malcove assembled, with relatively little money, an extensive and valuable collection over some 30 years, while she worked full time as a psychoanalyst. A pioneer, she was one of the early women to be trained at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, one of the first Canadian women to qualify as a psychoanalyst; and her collection was given to the University of Toronto, an institution little known to her. Fascinated, I decided to learn more about Lillian Malcove by viewing her collection, studying its catalogue (Campbell, 1985), researching archives at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, as well as the so-called “mystery box”2 and her professional papers (Malcove, 1933, 1945, 1974). I also interviewed several people still living who had known her, including friends and psychoanalysts.

A Psychoanalyst’s Collection

Dr. Lillian Malcove was a Supervising and Training analyst at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (NYPSI). She was, of course, also an avid art collector. She amassed a [End Page 612] collection of over 500 pieces of exquisite thought-provoking art and artefacts encompassing works from the Bronze Age to the modern era, with the majority from the medieval period (CE 600–1500). The focus of her collecting was primarily Egyptian, Coptic, and Christian art, but also included Byzantine, Russian, Ethiopian, and Greek artefacts. Among these works were liturgical objects including over 100 icons, as well as domestic objects, antique furniture, fabrics, and leaves from illuminated...


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