Freud paints a rare portrait of his long and colourful life

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For more than half a century, Lucian Freud has been revered as Britain's greatest living artist, and reviled, in almost equal measure, as one of society's most notorious womanisers.

This week, the reclusive portrait painter sheds light on both aspects, in a rare interview covering both his most important works and the colourful private life that has produced two marriages and 14 children, 12 of them out of wedlock.

Speaking to Tatler, the 84-year-old grandson of Sir Sigmund, whose models range from Kate Moss to the Queen, unveils a new female "muse". Known only as Rea, she has featured in several recent nude portraits, and was photographed on his arm attending a book launch at the Italian embassy in Belgravia last month. Asked how he continues to successfully cultivate new girlfriends ­ last year, the Welsh landowner David Williams-Wynn confirmed that his daughter Alexandra was Freud's latest companion ­ he reveals that eligible females are required to approach him and instantly reciprocate his romantic gestures.

Freud paints most of his lovers, who are rarely in short supply. The only time he has been forced to chase women was in his youth, when he admits to having been sexually promiscuous.

"Rea, whom I am painting now, works at the V&A. When I did that show with Frank Auerbach, she came up to me and we started working the next evening," he says. "She is incredibly nice and very punctual. It's the people I see and like that I paint, rather than saying 'I'll paint someone I've just seen.' It's partly because I've never been able to do that thing of courting. I need rather instant reciprocation.

"The only times I did courting were when I had the clap, which was not very often, and in those days it took two or three weeks to get rid of. So I took girls to the cinema and did everything possible to court them. I became the perfect courter. [However] I would quite often come back with people and didn't know what they were called. So I had a brilliant idea. 'How do you spell your name?' I would ask. 'What do you think?' they would say, and they'd spell it out: D-O-R-I-S. There was a bit of trouble like that."

Freud, who was divorced twice during the 1950s, reveals that the family of his second wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood, attempted to have her kidnapped in order to prevent their wedding.

Although Freud occasionally agrees to speak on the record to art critics, the interview with Tatler's editor, Geordie Greig, which is published on Thursday, is believed to be his first piece with a "lifestyle" title for more than a decade.

Of his current life, he says that he is unlikely to visit his new exhibition, to be held next month in New York."I haven't been out of London for a very long time, except for a trip to Paris to see the Ingres show. The train got stuck for two hours, which was desperate. I seldom leave the house except to go next door to eat, or to the Wolsley."