Lucian Freud: What has made his family so successful?
- 23 July 2011
- From the section UK
The art world has been mourning the death of Lucian Freud, arguably one of the UK's most highly regarded and respected artists. Lucian was not only a great artist but he came from a family which has excelled and continues to do so in many different professions.
The most famous Freud was Sigmund, the figurehead of the family, and one of the great thinkers in modern history. As founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, he created an entirely new approach to understanding - and treating - the unconscious mind.
But since his death in 1939, his offspring to this day have carried on the family name to great heights in a variety of fields.
In politics, David Freud - now Lord Freud - is the current parliamentary undersecretary of state for work and pensions, while Matthew Freud is an influential public relations chief who is married to Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of media mogul Rupert.
In the arts, Lucian Freud's heritage lives on with his daughters Bella and Esther, who are famed for being a highly-regarded fashion designer and novelist respectively.
Another prominent family member no longer with us was Sir Clement, Sigmund's grandson who had a varied career as a culinary expert, humorist, columnist, broadcaster and Liberal MP.
But the Freuds are not the only family whose achievements put the average family to shame.
There is the Redgrave acting dynasty, headed by Michael, his children Vanessa, Corin and Lynn and grandchildren Jemma Redgrave and Natasha and Joely Richardson.
In the US, political dynasties have become the norm - headed of course by the Kennedy and Bush families.
But the Freuds are unusual in that their achievements are in such a wide range of fields.
According to Ivan Ward, deputy director of the Freud Museum, this may be because of the ideas first espoused by Sigmund Freud and his belief in independent thought as well as the importance of being told from an early age that you are special.
Sigmund, who was Jewish, lived in Austria, which came under Nazi rule after being annexed by Germany in 1938. He, his wife and youngest daughter were forced to flee their Vienna home to London after being targeted by the Nazis. His four sisters, who stayed behind, later died in concentration camps.
According to Mr Ward, the sense of conflict of living in opposition was something which inspired Sigmund's independence of thought.
"The upheaval of having to leave Vienna, and the Holocaust where four of his sisters died in concentration camps - all those things would have had an impact," he said.
"He was the oldest boy, and his mother used to call him the 'golden child', so there was a sense of being the favourite and the oldest boy in a Jewish family pushed him on to his achievements.
"How it gets transmitted to following generations is hard to say."
As a father, Sigmund was "tolerant and encouraged creativity and the ability to think", said Mr Ward.
"Try and picture the scene of Freud with his children when they were small; he's trying to establish himself and he's struggling and working all hours.. it's hard to say he spent a lot of time with his children, he probably didn't.
"But you get the feeling that when he did, he treated them with a seriousness and complexity that some people don't think about when it comes to relating to children."
And in Sigmund's own words: "If a man has been his mother's undisputed darling, he retains throughout life the triumphant feeling; the confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual success along with it."
But do genetics play a role in a family's success?
Marcus Pembrey, a professor of paediatric genetics at University College London, said that although genetics can influence things like intelligence, it does not do it directly.
"Genetic differences between genes make them highly responsive to environment but whether this is a good thing depends on the environment," he said.
"If it's one where there's underachievement then they will adopt that and achieve nothing, so it works for better and worse."
He said the Freuds probably have genes which are highly responsive to the environment around them so as their family is full of people who have distinctive achievements, children in the early years of development pick up on this.
Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology and director of the department of twin research at King's College in London, argues that genetics do have a role to play in success but not usually in the same profession.
"Identical twins rarely succeed in the same fields," he said.
"For success, you need a basic minimal IQ - which is 60% genetic - but also the environment which usually includes a role model and teacher or family to drive you.
"You also need motivation and the will to practise hard from an early age. These traits are partly genetic but can be improved with training."
According to family relationship therapist Julia Armstrong, the first seven years are key times in a person's development as things such as parents, friendships and schooling all have an impact.
"If at that point a person is given the permission to shine, there is a natural expectation that life is going to offer opportunities.
"We've all got the capacity to be whatever we want to be, and nature depends on that being encouraged, so if a child's preference or talent is recognised, then they are more likely to grow into their creative self."
She said a child in a successful family can go in one of two directions - they can excel once they discover what their own talent may be, or they can feel the pressure and go the other way and not live up to expectations.