How many dealers can become subject matter for artists as diverse as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Richard Hamilton? Or claim friendships with John Richardson and Malcolm McLaren? The Telegraph takes the occasion of Pace Gallery’s exhibition, the Strong Sweet Smell of Incense commemorating Fraser’s role in the art world which ranged from his encouragement of Richard Hamilton’s career (including appearing in Hamilton’s Swingeing London 67) to launching Basquiat in the UK:
His grandfather had been the butler to the department store founder Harry Gordon Selfridge; his father, Lionel, was a bookkeeper who rose to become a millionaire banker. Fraser was educated at Eton, and then served as an officer in the King’s African Rifles in Uganda – which he described as “13 months of purgatorial boredom” – before moving to New York, where he threw himself into the modern art scene, befriending such prominent artists as Ellsworth Kelly and Jim Dine. In 1962, with backing from his father, he opened his first London gallery on Duke Street in Mayfair, with a show by the French artist Jean Dubuffet.
At the time Fraser opened for business, art dealing in Britain was still a staid profession, largely confined to a handful of long-established Cork Street galleries. Fraser had no formal training in art, but he had energy, intuition and an eye; at various times through the Sixties his gallery would exhibit work by Bacon, Magritte, Eduardo Paolozzi, Patrick Caulfield and many more.
Fraser evinced a certain style. He lived on Mount Street in Mayfair, just a few hundred yards from his gallery, to which he would be chauffeured each day in a Rolls-Royce. His suits were by Huntsman, his shirts by Mr Fish. He kept a Moroccan manservant-cum-lover named Mohammed who would serve him mint tea as he lounged at home in a djellaba listening to American soul and Indian ragas. He was always ahead of the game. Anita Pallenberg would later identify him as the first person she knew in London to take LSD. […]
Fraser became, as Jagger would remember, “a taste guru” to the Beatles and the Stones. He sold McCartney the Magritte painting of a giant green apple that became the inspiration for the Beatles’ Apple logo, and stage-managed both Peter Blake’s cover for the Sgt Pepper album and Richard Hamilton’s cover for the White Album. […]
Ever the snob, Fraser would sometimes decline to sell someone a painting on the grounds that he didn’t much like the look of them. He didn’t see a future when the money wouldn’t flow – or he didn’t care. He liked to tell the story of how Eugene Jolas, Magritte’s dealer, had advised him that “you can become wealthy by selling art, but if you want to become really rich you don’t sell it”. But he never heeded the advice himself.