Freud was born in Berlin, Germany in 1922, son of Jewish parents Ernst Ludwig Freud, an architect, and Lucie nee Brasch. He is the grandson of Sigmund Freud and brother of Clement Freud, Freud and his family moved to the UK in 1933 due to the rise of Nazism, gaining British citizenship in 1939. During this period he attended Dartington Hall school in Totnes, Devon, and then Bryanston School.
Freud studied briefly at the Central School of Art in London then, with greater success, at Cedric Morris's East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. Thereafter, he served as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy in 1941 before being invalided out of service in 1942. Freud's first solo exhibition, at the Lefevre Gallery in 1944, featured the now celebrated The Painter's Room. In the summer of 1946, he travelled to Paris before continuing to Italy for several months. Since then he has lived and worked in London.