Robert Fraser (art dealer)
Fraser was educated at Eton and spent several years in Africa in the 1950s as an officer of The King's Rifles; it was later rumoured that during this time he had a sexual liaison with the young Idi Amin.
After a period spent working in galleries in the United States, he returned to England and with the help of his father (a wealthy financier who had also been a trustee of the Tate Gallery) in 1962 he established the Robert Fraser Gallery in Duke St, Grosvenor Square, London. The gallery interior was designed by Cedric Price. It became a focal point for modern art in Britain, and through his exhibitions he helped to launch and promote the work of many important new British and American artists including Peter Blake, Bridget Riley, Jann Haworth, Richard Hamilton, Gilbert and George, Harold Cohen, Eduardo Paolozzi, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha. Fraser also sold work by Rene Magritte, Jean Dubuffet, Balthus and Hans Bellmer.
In 1966 the Robert Fraser Gallery was prosecuted for staging an exhibition of works by Jim Dine that was described as indecent (but not obscene). The works were removed from the gallery by Scotland Yard and Fraser was charged under a 19th Century law that applied to street beggars. Fraser was fined 20 guineas and legal costs.
Fraser became well known as a trendsetter during the Sixties — Paul McCartney has described him as "one of the most influential people of the London Sixties scene". His London flat and his gallery were the foci of a "jet-set" salon of top pop stars, artists, writers and other celebrities, including members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, photographer Michael Cooper, designer Christopher Gibbs, Marianne Faithfull, Dennis Hopper (who introduced Fraser to satirist Terry Southern), William Burroughs and Kenneth Anger. Because of this he was given the nickname "Groovy Bob". He is also thought to be an inspiration for the character "Dr. Robert" in the song of the same name on The Beatles album Revolver.
Fraser art-directed the famous cover for The Beatles' 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- he dissuaded the group from using the original design, a psychedelic artwork created by the design collective The Fool, instead suggesting the pop artist, Peter Blake, who created the famous collage cover design.
Fraser also gave Paul McCartney a small painting of an apple by Rene Magritte which is believed to have been the inspiration for the name and logo of the Beatles' record company, Apple Records. It was also through Fraser that Richard Hamilton was selected to design the poster for the White Album. His gallery also hosted "You Are Here", Lennon's own foray into avant garde art during 1968.
He was a close friend of the Rolling Stones and was present at the infamous party at Keith Richards' house, 'Redlands', which was raided by police, leading to the subsequent arrests and trials of Jagger, Richards and Fraser on drug possession charges. The event is commemorated by the famous 1968 Richard Hamilton work Swingeing London 67, a collage of contemporary press clippings about the case. Although Jagger and Richards were acquitted on appeal, Fraser plead guilty on charges of possession of heroin and was sentenced to six months hard labour. After his release Fraser's interest in the gallery declined as his heroin addiction grew worse and he closed the business in 1969.
70s and 80s
Fraser left the UK and spent several years in India during the 1970s. He returned to London in the early 1980s and opened a second gallery in 1983, but by this time he was suffering from chronic drug and alcohol problems and the gallery never replicated the success of its predecessor, although Fraser was again influential in promoting the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
It soon transpired that Fraser was also suffering from AIDS, making him one of the first 'celebrity' victims of the disease in the UK. He was cared for by the Terence Higgins Trust during his final illness and is said to have been the first person with AIDS in Britain who was able to die at home. He died in 1986.
- Harriet Vyner - Groovy Bob: the life and times of Robert Fraser (Faber, London 1999).