However from the 1960s onwards his grandsons Sigmund and Lucien ensured the Freud name-tag was never out of both serious and popular circles. Lucien's hyper-realistic pictures of tortured souls sitting nakedly alongside various accoutrements including dogs and rags has earned him Tate retrospectives, oodles of cash and, since Francis Bacon died, the accolade of Most Important British Artist. A recent show at Abbott Hall in Kendal saw the entire British art and media world decamp from Soho to the Lake District in order to catch it, although these days most of his work is seen (and sold) in New York.
Brother Clement's career, which has variously encompassed the Liberal Party, dog food adverts, British Rail sandwiches, columns in most newspapers and Just A Minute, has been a fascinating hopscotch throughout most media outlets. The brothers do not much delight in each other's successes, however. Clement and Lucien are alleged not to have spoken to each other for more 30 years. But since they continue to personify the sublime and the trivial of British culture so perfectly, who's complaining? Apparently when the doleful Clement (plus equally doleful bloodhound) used to come on the box advertising canine snacks Lucien was wont to yell "Minced Morsels!", and turn it off instantaneously.
Their several famous offspring have continued the dialectic between popular and high culture. First to get going was daughter of Clement, Emma, 34. Chatshow doyenne, and former GLR DJ, Emma began her broadcasting career in the dubious position of lying in bed interviewing B-list celebrities for a satellite programme called Pillow Talk. And this was years before the idea became a glimmer in the schedule of something called The Big Breakfast.
After stints on Channel Four's media magazine The Media Show and BBC's investigative programme Making Advances, La Freud had a nasty brush with Radio One, which resulted in an unceremonious dumping from her pounds 100,000- a-year presenting role on the lunchtime slot. However she is now happily ensconced in media-friendly West London with scriptwriter Richard (Four Weddings and Funeral) Curtis, baby Scarlett and a second baby on the way.
Brother Matthew, 33, although less instantly recognisable, is probably more influential. Chairman of Freud Communications (that old surname trick again), one of Britain's biggest PR companies, Matthew "looks after" the likes of Chris Evans, Paula Yates, the Planet Hollywood fast food chain and movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral (spot the family connection). In a notoriously slippery business, Freudian PR slips are rare; at this year's Cannes Film Festival his minions orchestrated interviews with Polygram Films, Sylvester Stallone and Demi Moore and anyone else you care to mention with extreme media-effectiveness. Freud-promoted parties have journalists scrabbling for tickets; Freud-promoted products get everywhere. When Planet Hollywood launched in London the Aspel TV show gave it 45 minutes of airtime (resulting in complaints to the ITC).
Matthew is nothing if not a true Freud; perhaps using some of his great- grandfather's skills he is interested not just in promoting, but in analysing the phenomenon of modern fame and its attendant dangers. "What's the function of celebrity? The function of fame has been about heroes; about something to believe in ... but the media doesn't allow anyone to play the role hero any more." However, apart from putting his surname on the company logo Mr Freud himself is rather self-effacing; in a letter to The Times he claimed his personal tally of column inches over the last 10 years was less than 100 (whereas that of his clients, he said, was more than 1,000 per day).
Meanwhile the Freud cousins, true to the rarefied lead taken by their father Lucien, have flourished away from the world of tabloid newspapers, pop, movies, and fast food and immersed themselves in high culture. Literally, in the case of Lucien's daughter Bella. Trained under Vivienne Westwood, her booming haute couture business now has the likes of Naomi Campbell begging to model for her. Bella's sister, Esther, has just published her third novel, Gaglow, to rave reviews, while half-sisters Rose and Susie Boyt (offspring of Lucien and Suzy Boyt) are also successful novelists.
Perhaps the combined Freud offspring are only acting out a Freudian dichotomy; on one hand, while Clement's lot and its clients ensure they are never out of the limelight, Lucien's brood, although still well-known, have pursued self-satisfaction down the rather more introspective street of artistic excellence. And in terms of legacies, the work left by Sigmund himself is still hotly contested. The latest row over the validity of his theories broke only last week with the publication of The Memory Wars, a book debunking Freudian psychoanalysis.
For anyone who dreads the continuation of Freud fascination into the next century, it's bad news. Esther recently revealed she has about six more half-sisters, while a newspaper once claimed the bohemian Lucien has no less than 40 children. And if they are all as good at marketing the Freud logo as those in current circulation are, we could be in for a long-running sagan
The writer is the BBC's arts correspondentReuse content