How Lucian Freud once owed £500,000 in gambling debts to gangland Kray twins


Lucian Freud
Birth name Lucian Michael Freud
Born 8 December 1922
Died 20 July 2011 (aged 88)
Spouse Kathleen “Kitty” Epstein (1948–1952; divorced)
Lady Caroline Blackwood (1953–1959; divorced)
Nationality British
Field Painting
Training Central School of Art

East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing

Goldsmiths College


Private: Lucian Freud spoke candidly about his gambling problem

Artist Lucian Freud ran up half a million pounds in gambling debts with gangland crimelords the Kray brothers.

Britain’s most renowned living artist said the brothers ‘forced’ money on him to feed his addiction, but he was only able to repay them in small amounts.

The 87-year-old confessed he once cancelled an exhibition out of fear they would demand more money if they saw he was earning.

The situation got so bad that at one point he received a warning from the police.

In a revealing interview, the notoriously private artist discussed the nights he spent in police cells for fighting, his relationship with Kate Moss and how he escorted Greta Garbo to nightclubs.

‘She was the most famous person in the world at that stage. I was very young, she was in her late thirties,’ he said of the actress.

‘The people in the clubs could not believe it.’

He said of Kate Moss, whom he met through his fashion designer daughter Bella: ‘She was interesting company and full of surprising behaviour,’ said Freud, who in 2002  painted a portrait of the heavily-pregnant and naked model in 2002.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, he said he was sometimes annoyed when Miss Moss was late for sittings ‘only in that way that girls are’.

He believes the painting was unsuccessful because photographers waited outside his house, disturbing his obsession with privacy.

Freud had a well-documented relationship with the Kray twins Reggie and Ronnie – with Reggie counting Freud amongst his favourite painters.

Club owner: Reggie Kray, centre, with Eddie Pucci, Frank Sinatra's bodyguard and Shirley Bassey in the early SixtiesClub owner: Reggie Kray, centre, with Eddie Pucci, Frank Sinatra’s bodyguard and Shirley Bassey in the early Sixties

Their paths crossed in the swinging Sixties demi-monde of  West End nightclub life.

As club owners the Krays mixed with politicians and great entertainers of the day including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland Shirley Bassey and Barbara Windsor.

The artist once said of his gambling: ‘I always went all out. The idea of it being a sport seemed to me insane. The thing I liked was risking everything. Losing everything to do with money.’

A self-portrait of Freud nursing a black eye after a punch-up with a taxi driver sold for more than £2.8million last monthA self-portrait of Freud nursing a black eye after a punch-up with a taxi driver sold for more than £2.8million last month

He also explained his reasons for stopping gambling: ‘As I got more money, they wouldn’t take the bets and it just became pointless.

‘If I’d been in very high-powered card games with grand, rich people, perhaps, but that wasn’t what I did.’

The artist also disclosed he has four new muses: he is painting his assistant David Dawson; artist and printmaker Perienne Christian, 26; and two restaurateurs – Jeremy King, co-owner of The Wolseley where Freud frequently eats, and Sally Clarke, owner of Clarke’s in Kensington.

Artist and gambler: Freud in 1958Artist and gambler: Freud in 1958

Freud is the grandson of Sigmund Freud and was born in Berlin where, at the age of nine, he photographed Hitler.

The family moved to England in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism, and became British citizens six years later.

Freud reveals their naturalisation was made possible by the intervention of the Duke of Kent.

Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, a life-size portrait of Jobcentre worker Sue Tilley, sold for £17.2million in 2008.

It set the world record for the highest price paid in an auction for a work of art by a living artist.

He remains ambitious though, adding: I work every day and night. I don’t do anything else. There is no point otherwise.’

This month, a self-portrait of Freud nursing a black eye after a punch-up with a taxi driver sold for more than £2.8million at auction.

The artist has previously discussed his habit of getting into scrapes, saying: ‘I used to have a lot of fights.

‘It wasn’t because I liked fighting, it was really just that people said things to me to which I felt the only reply was to hit them.