Lucian Freud and his Norfolk and Suffolk links

In recent years a kind friend has often treated me to supper at the very splendid Wolseley restaurant on London's Piccadilly. Lucian Freud would be in there EVERY night.

Had we lunched at Clarke's in Kensington the grand old man of British painting would inevitably have been seated at a neighbouring table.

Here was a man who took routine to a fine art. No, a total obsession.

Mostly he'd eat with one other person – friend, model or one of his many offspring. They all seemed to amount to the same thing: food for the creative process. His gaze was ravenous.

Sue Tilley – who sat (or sprawled) for the famous Benefits Supervisor Sleeping portrait which Roman Abramovich bought for �17m – recalls exhausting working sessions at night.

She was relieved when her shifts, for which she initially received �20 a time, switched to days, not least since (�80) lunches out were then included.

Lucian Freud – who painted his mother dying and his daughters naked – was an artist of slow deliberation and forensic scrutiny. His formidable focus stripped everyone and everything bare.

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In an age of abstract and conceptual art, he led a continuing focus on the figure. He was like an anatomist – or, in the later and most lionised work, a pathologist.

Some rank him with Rembrandt, others see misanthropy, misogyny and acres of dead flesh. Part of his greatness was that he put himself in the frame – and his self-portraits are similarly merciless.

He was born in Berlin in December 1922, the middle son of architect Ernst Freud and his wife Lucie, and grandson of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychoanalysis.

Being Jewish, the Freuds fled to Britain when Hitler came to power in 1933. Sigmund got out of Vienna months before the war.

Lucian longed for distance from his doting parents and was ultimately estranged from both brothers – Sir Clement, late Liberal MP for the Fens and media personality, and Stephen, who ran a hardware store in Marylebone.

Ernst soon designed the Hidden House in Walberswick, on a coastline loved for its similarity to the Baltic island of Hiddenseee, where he had spent happy childhood holidays. And the Suffolk village remains a clan base to this day.

But Lucian's novelist daughter Esther has said: 'My father is just about the only member of my family who doesn't love Walberswick. He said he could never paint there because he would be put off by all the amateur lady artists wearing amber necklaces.'

He studied from 1939 at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, run by Cedric Morris and Lett Haines, and probably sparked its move from Dedham to Hadleigh.

For he and fellow student David Carr – late of Starston Hall near Harleston – were painting one night when a fag end was pitched fatefully into a bin of old rags. That set the place on fire – to the delight of reactionary neighbour Alfred Munnings.

In the summer of 1942 Lucian met the painter and femme fatale Lorna Wishart in Southwold, and they began a passionate affair.

When she broke with her unfaithful lover, he wed her niece Kitty Garman (daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein), and studies of his wife apparently going off her head then established his genius.

Lucian was married to the writer Caroline Blackwood from 1953 to 1957 and after she left him his portraits drained further of emotion.

He and painter best friend John Craxton (who would be succeeded in that role by Francis Bacon and then by Frank Auerbach) had begun to draw beastly corpses during war-time stays in the Fens with a scientist who was sent animal carcases for post-mortem examination.

In London they worked together in a St John's Wood maisonette where a dead and stinking monkey was shut in the oven when National Gallery director Sir Kenneth Clark and his wife came to tea.

There were many affairs, some resulting in multiple children. His most famous daughters Esther and fashion-designer Bella are by the writer, traveller, gardener and free spirit Bernadine Coverley who lives at Laxfield.

Lucian Freud moved easily between high society and low life. This friend of dukes and holder of the Order of Merit admired gangsters and ran up enormous gambling debts with the Kray Twins.

His character was mercurial to the last, and men and women alike were charmed by his brilliant conversation and steely wit. But really art was all.

As he told critic Martin Gayford: 'All my patience has gone into my work, leaving none for my life.'

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