Portrait of a very peculiar father: He fathered up to 30 children by his coterie of lovers – but artist Lucian Freud left a trail of emotional turmoil in his wake
PUBLISHED: 22:00 GMT, 15 September 2013 | UPDATED: 20:43 GMT, 16 September 2013
He was one of the greatest British artists of the past century – but as a brilliant new biography reveals, Lucian Freud had a personal life as colourful as it was turbulent. On Saturday, our first extract told how his sexual magnetism helped him seduce as many as 500 lovers. Today, we reveal how those affairs gave rise to up to 30 children – some damaged for life by the father whose love they hungered for …
All his life, Lucian Freud scorned the idea of living with his children. So his eldest daughter, Annie, grew up accepting that she could see him only intermittently.
Her bond with him, however, was a close one — until she reached the age of 27.
She was having lunch with her father at Wheeler’s in Soho when a young man walked up to their table and stretched out his hand. ‘I’m your long-lost baby brother, Ali,’ he told her.
Lucian Freud standing on his head in his studio with his daughter, the fashion designer Bella Freud, pictured in 1983
Annie was dumbfounded. Lucian lived alone, so it had never crossed her mind that she and her younger sister, Annabel — his only legitimate offspring from his marriage to artist Kitty Garman — might have siblings. Ali, she learned, was one of four children Lucian had fathered with Suzy Boyt, a student he’d met at the Slade school of art in the Fifties. But, that day at Wheeler’s, her father offered no further information — least of all that he had many other children.
‘I simply didn’t know about Ali, Rose, Susie, Ib, Bella or Esther at all — none of them,’ Annie recalled. ‘I had no idea that they existed, or who their mothers were. At the time, I hadn’t understood that you have the right to be angry with your parents, so I felt that I couldn’t be angry. I’d been brought up to think that whatever Dad did was perfect.’
Although Lucian carried on treating her as he always had, something fundamental altered that day.
‘Somehow, the person I thought I had as my dad was no longer the person I had known. I was anchorless,’ said Annie.
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The discovery of secret siblings was disturbing enough, but even more so was the fact that, unlike her, many of them appeared to know about each other.
‘I then started to assume that almost anyone I met was a child of Dad’s,’ said Annie. ‘Even if I met someone with an Australian accent, I wondered if it was some brother or sister of mine.
‘I had no way of acknowledging my feelings of betrayal until later on, when I had a nervous breakdown. My marriage broke up and I became a ferocious feminist — and Dad took a dim view of my unhappiness. He didn’t want to know.’
Annie was not alone in feeling hard done by. Over the years, Lucian Freud was often accused of cruelty and absenteeism as a father — and it’s undeniable that some of his behaviour was deeply selfish.
The children who were angriest with him were the four he had with former fashion student Kathleen McAdam. After their mother left him in 1966, he barely saw any of them for 20 years.
When his daughter, Lucy, got married, aged 22 — ‘to have a family, be a proper family’, she said — he never even responded to the wedding invitation. Nor did he ever meet her two sons, Peter and James.
Another daughter, Jane McAdam Freud, told me: ‘We understood that he lived by his own rules. He was allowed to be rather childish in relation to responsibility.
‘However, as he appeared both frightened and frightening, interrogating this would have been rather like questioning the Wizard of Oz.’
Despite Lucian’s obvious failures as a father, most of his children loved him, wishing only that they could see more of him. Indeed, many of them continued to defend him over what was pretty indefensible behaviour.
Meanwhile, he continued making lovers pregnant — sometimes more than one in the same year. In 1961, for example, he fathered three children (Bella, Isobel and Lucy) by three different women. ‘My reckoning, at one time, was that we could count 24 children who were his,’ said Lucinda Lambton, the daughter (by another man) of one of his long-term lovers.
Some friends estimated that he may have fathered as many as 30, though a few of these children were probably discreetly folded into the existing families of his lovers. At least one lover was banished from his life as soon as she’d given birth, which meant her child never met him.
In the end, only 14 of his offspring — the oldest and youngest spanning a period of 36 years — were left something in his will after Lucian died in July 2011 at the age of 88.
Among them was a novelist, an artist who draws with ballpoint pens, a fashion designer, a journalist, a drugs adviser, a poet and a sculptor.
I once asked Lucian whether he deliberately set out to have so many children. ‘No, I never thought about it,’ he said. ‘But it seemed quite exciting when women were pregnant.
‘I don’t like babies — I think partly because they’re so vulnerable. But I’m very good with older children.’
He shrugged off the fact that he’d never lived with any of them: ‘I’ve always liked being on my own part of the time. Communal life’s never had much appeal.’
As far as Lucian was concerned, his children had to accept him on his own terms. That meant he saw them only when he felt like it, he never had any photos of them on display and he expected them to tolerate his ever-expanding cast of lovers.
But Lucian’s ever-roving eye had an upsetting effect on Annie. ‘There were many experiences of meeting his girlfriends, becoming besotted with them, and then I’d never see them again,’ she said.
As a child, she’d find ‘hate’ letters in his studio that Lucian was about to send, ‘saying the most critical things he could think of about someone he’d been in love with — about their dishonesty, vileness or beastliness’.
The rooms where he lived and worked were certainly nothing like the homes of her friends’ parents.
‘The bedroom was knee-deep in dirty clothes, letters, bills, cheques, books, paint, personal objects, works of art. Dad was a manic buyer — he shopped and he shopped and he shopped.
‘The stairway had no steps visible — the newspapers were like a kind of river, piled up deep. It was simply a fact of my life, all the chaos: food, pans of oil in which chips had been fried. I accepted it because it was part of my dad, whom I loved absolutely and completely.’
Lucian Freud fathered up to 30 children: pictured, daughters Isobel Boyt, left, and Lucy Freud, right
Nothing — certainly not a child — was permitted to impinge on Lucian’s relentless work schedule, which often ended up affecting his health.
‘He’d complain about awful boils on his bum,’ said Annie. ‘Work, relentlessly pursued, took a terrible toll on top of endless love affairs going wrong, lack of money, terrifying gambling debts, conflicts with galleries and the odd fight.’
Yet despite this raucous behaviour, he insisted on Annie and Annabel having beautiful manners.
When he caught Annie smoking outside, he told her that only prostitutes smoke in the street — and that if she did it again, he’d regard her as one.
With the exception of his four children by Katherine McAdam, Lucian also ensured that he painted all his acknowledged children.
They agreed because they were hungry for his attention; sitting for him was the only guarantee they had of seeing him.
More controversially, he persuaded six of his daughters and one son to pose naked. This was condemned by some people as immoral, but Lucian didn’t care: he viewed objections as bourgeois, the fruit of people’s own twisted minds.
The first of these sittings was in 1963, when Lucian asked Annie, then 14, to remove all her clothes.
Her mother, his ex-wife Kitty Garman, from whom he had separated 11 years previously, was most alarmed, which Lucian found both ridiculous and hilarious. ‘He howled with laughter, which was difficult for me to handle,’ says Annie.
‘I remember having long hair and wanting my hair to cover my nipples, and Dad would lean forward and move my hair away with his paintbrush,’ she said.
‘It was full exposure. The issue was about someone having dominion over you. It was all quite shocking.
‘There was some hurt done, not intentionally, and it was nothing to do with sex — perhaps it was more an intrusion into innocence.
‘It was all very well for Dad to say it was all right. No one else felt that it was.’
‘He’d write to me,’ she said, ‘saying I mustn’t go on about being so sorry about the past and that everything was fine.’
But it never really was, and Annie spent time in therapy
But to Lucian, nakedness was just a way of getting a more truthful portrait. Even more explicit was the portrait of his daughter Rose Boyt. Titled Rose, the painting shows her lying back on a sofa, with her legs apart.
‘I think he had a moment before starting work of wondering whether he should save me from myself, but thought better of it,’ said Rose, who was 19 at the time.
‘I can remember getting undressed, lying down on the sofa and shielding my eyes from the very bright bulb that was hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t realise that from where my father was standing by the easel, the pose I’d assumed would look quite so indecorous!
‘I imagined he’d be looking down at me, rather than at me from all angles. I learned then that his eyes gathered information not in the way the camera sees, in straight lines, but round corners.’
The sittings were all at night. ‘Each lasted from when I arrived at dusk until he could not go on any more or when it got light, whichever happened sooner.
‘Sometimes I’d go home after the sitting, often at four in the morning, taking a taxi to my flat and treasuring the sense that some of my father’s power had rubbed off on me. Other times, he would just chuck a blanket over me where I lay and let me sleep until breakfast.’
Her views on the actual painting changed over time.
‘Crew cut, open legs, naked. It’s a great painting — now in Japan, thank God! Perhaps I’ve become a bit of a prude in my old age.’
Frank Paul, son of the artist Celia Paul and the youngest of Lucian’s known children, told me that the longest time he ever spent with his father was when he sat for him.
Now aged 29, he has a West Country accent and his father’s narrow face and inquisitive, darting eyes. ‘There were a lot of silences between us when we were alone,’ he said, ‘and I found it quite awkward — but he was entirely comfortable with that.
‘He seemed very true to himself and never altered his behaviour in any way to please the person he was talking to. I remember admiring him more as he never seemed to care what other people thought.’
Frank had his father’s telephone number for a short while.
‘I don’t think I ever called him for a chat. I felt it was a very different relationship from what other people had with their fathers, but I never felt particularly upset about that,’ he said.
Annie, however, was never offered Lucian’s phone number — and was very upset when she discovered that he’d given it to a chosen few. ‘It really screwed me up for a long time,’ she said.
Later, she clashed with her father in 1981, just before he started Large Interior, London W11 (After Watteau), a painting based on the rococo artist’s picture of four figures in an imagined garden.
Lucian had asked Annie if her daughter, May, would sit as one of the figures. Knowing his sittings were long and arduous, Annie agreed against her better judgment, then subsequently changed her mind.
‘It was the worst mistake of my life,’ said Annie, ‘because we forever lost our intimacy. I did try to rebuild our closeness, but it could never be remade. I was very frightened of him after that. I’d lost my way with him . . . It was just terrible.’
For five years, they didn’t see each other at all. And when Annie did eventually meet Lucian again, it was at awkward, stiff lunches where hardly anything was said.
She wrote him letters, asking to be forgiven. ‘He’d write to me,’ she said, ‘saying I mustn’t go on about being so sorry about the past and that everything was fine.’
But it never really was, and Annie spent time in therapy.
Lucian, she realised, was closer to some of his children than others — and she found that hard to bear. At his memorial service, for instance, his daughter, Bella, spoke about his great capacity to show love and give her his time.
His behaviour as a parent had seldom been questioned — because few dared to do so.
Once, however, his bookmaker and friend Victor Chandler boldly asked him whether he ever felt any guilt about it.
‘None at all,’ replied Lucian.
THE LAST BOHEMIAN: A GIANT TALENT UNRESTRAINED BY MORAL SCRUPLES
Lucian Freud was the greatest realist figurative painter of the 20th century. But although his art was deeply rooted in tradition, it was, at times, considered shocking, dangerous and unsettling.
Quite simply, he changed the mood and language of portraiture, using people to whom he was attracted to pose for pictures that captured an intensely observed truth.
His approach to art was inextricably linked to his background. As Sigmund Freud’s grandson, born in 1922, Lucian and his two brothers had left Germany in 1933 with their Jewish parents, Ernst and Lucie. Their flight had been prompted by the murder of a cousin by Nazi thugs in broad daylight outside a café in Berlin.
By the time Lucian arrived in England as a ten-year-old refugee, he already had an extraordinary talent for drawing.
As he grew up, the shadow of death made him hunger to live life to the full, ignoring any rivals.
Painting was the obsessive centre of his existence. ‘It is the only point of getting up every morning: to paint, to make something good, to make something even better than before, not to give up, to compete, to be ambitious,’ he said.
Certainly, he could be frank and fearless. When the late Sir James Goldsmith, the billionaire entrepreneur, sent him a letter to warn that if he painted his daughter, he’d have him murdered, Lucian replied: ‘Is that a commission?’
The only letter he sent me, before we’d met, read: ‘The idea of giving you an interview makes me feel sick.’
In his final years, Lucian liked to sit in the evening in the Wolseley, a café-restaurant in the grand European tradition, on Piccadilly. In the most glamorous restaurant dining room in London, other diners would watch him twist his head round to see who was present.
He was not name-checking, but focusing on napes, knees, faces, legs, arms and even ears. Even in old age, Lucian was far more interested in how people looked than who they were.
When the actress Keira Knightley sat near him one night when I was with him, he had no idea who she was, as he never watched films or television and paid no attention whatsoever to fashions and fads.
He was an odd mix of vanity with a touch of the vagrant. When he flew to New York to see a show of his work, in a private jet chartered by his art dealer, he packed one shirt which he carried in a plastic bag.
‘Nice jacket — where is it from?’ he would ask, always noticing what people wore. It was also a deflection, giving him an extra moment of observation.
His art and his life joined seamlessly. He courted danger and lived a lusty, libidinous life, but often untidily — contradicting himself and behaving in the opposite way to his public pronouncements.
But throughout his life, his steel core of ambition was matched by a magical ability to charm.
Both were ruthlessly marshalled in his aim to lead a life unrestrained by moral scruples and to compete with the greatest artists of all time.
Extracted from Breakfast With Lucian: A Portrait Of The Artist by Geordie Greig, to be published by Jonathan Cape on October 3 at £25. © 2013 Geordie Greig. To order a copy for £20 (inc p&p) call 0844 472 4157. Geordie Greig is appearing at the Henley Literary Festival on Sunday, October 6. For tickets see henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk or phone 01189 724700.