His boldly-handled and richly-coloured semi-abstracts, influenced by the School of Paris, established Donald Hamilton Fraser as one of the most distinctive British Modernist painters of the immediate post-war generation. Though he was of Scottish descent, Donald Hamilton Fraser was born in London on 30 July 1929, the son of the antiques dealer, Donald Fraser, and his wife, Dorothy (née Lang). During the Second World War, his family moved constantly and, while he spent some time at Maidenhead Grammar School, he often had to change school. Nevertheless, he developed an interest in literature, reading voraciously and writing poetry, and he began to train as a journalist with Kemsley Newspapers.
During a period of national service in the Royal Air Force (1947-49), Fraser became increasingly interested in the visual arts, and studied at St Martin’s School of Art, first in evening classes and, on his release, as a full-time student (1949-52). His precocious ability to gain external commissions provoked the envy of some of teachers, but soon led to his first solo show at the prestigious London gallery, Gimpel Fils, in 1953. Gaining a French government scholarship to Paris, he lived in the city in the years 1953-54, a brief but formative period that had a significant influence on the development of his work. It was also in Paris, at the British Embassy in 1954, that he married the graphic designer, Judith Wentworth-Sheilds, whom he had met at St Martin’s. (Together they would have one daughter.)
On returning to London in 1954, Fraser supported himself by writing for Arts Review, while establishing himself as a painter.
His ability to devote himself fully to his art was marked, in 1956, by a solo show at Galerie Craven, in Paris. Then, in 1957, he took up an invitation from Carel Weight to teach at the Royal College of Art for one day a week; he continued to do so for 25 years, becoming a Fellow of the RCA in 1970, and an Honorary Fellow in 1984. He became one of the most prolific and widely exhibited of British artists, with his work being shown nationally as well as throughout America and Japan. In addition to Gimpel Fils, he frequently held solo shows at Paul Rosenberg & Co, in New York (the American dealer of Nicolas de Staël, whom he admired).
In 1969, Fraser and his family moved to Henley-on-Thames, and settled into a pair of converted cottages that would remain his home until his death. From 1977, he would hold solo shows locally at the Bohun Galleries. Exhibiting increasingly at the Royal Academy, he was elected an Associate in 1975, and a full Royal Academician a decade later, becoming Honorary Curator in 1992. He held a number of official roles: Honorary Secretary (1975-81) and then Chairman (1981-87) of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution; a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission (1986-99); and Vice-President of the Royal Overseas League (1986-2009).
A highly civilised man with interests in literature and music, Fraser was particularly knowledgeable about ballet, writing a book on the subject, entitled Dancers (1989), and producing many drawings and paintings of dancers in a naturalistic style, which contrasted with the semi-abstraction of his landscapes. Two retrospectives of his work were held in London in the summer of 2009 – at Arthur Ackerman and the CCA Galleries – not long before his death on 2 September.
Further reading ‘Donald Hamilton Fraser’ [obituary], Daily Telegraph, 4 September 2009; ‘Donald Hamilton Fraser: Painter’ [obituary], The Times, 19 September 2009; Clare Hinton, Donald Hamilton Fraser. A retrospective: metamorphosis not metaphor, Tilford: CCA Galleries/Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2009; William Packer, ‘Donald Hamilton Fraser’ [obituary], Guardian, 7 September 2009