First Owner: 2nd October 1959 – 31st July 1963
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Renato Fratini, the first owner of @MGAlzhiemers, is widely acknowledged to have been the greatest artist in his field, a highly successful and pioneering commercial illustrator.
Renato Fratini thrived on the 60s London scene and, infamous for his love of a good party, quickly gained a reputation as a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. Despite this, he was still able to turn out stunning pieces of artwork with relatively little notice.
There is a bold, graphic quality to his work that was very characteristic of great Sixties art. Fratini’s filmic style translated across his work with illustrations characterised by narrative elements that tell a story in their own right. His illustrations would capture the essence of the film or book and, in the process, create a unique artwork. Renato Fratini had a great confidence in his own abilities which was fortunately justified by his skill.
This biographical history and accompanying picture galleries were researched and compiled by James after he secured the MG. It is believed to be the most comprehensive corroborated Renato Fratini gallery archive collection in existence. Due to the varied techniques Fratini employed and the variety of artists in his field, many of whom he inspired creatively, the research element involved a significant amount of sleuthing and isolatotion of Fratini "tell-tales" such as how he finishes hands and faces.
James belives there are a number of artworks incorrectly attributed to Fratini on the web. In part due to the fact he never signed his work. He drew for comics, magazines, book covers and movie posters throughout his career. James acknowledges the contribution of a number of sources to the biography and galleries - all of which can be found at the end of this main text body. These books specifically provided examples of his and his peers' artworks; greatly helping identify Fratini's varied styles.
The artwork in these galleries are believed to be his, feel free to e mail if you know otherwise - or have some images to add!
RENATO FRATINI AND @MGAlzheimers
Fratini turned 27 in the same month he collected his brand-new MGA Twin Cam, quite a birthday present! By this point in his career he was earning an unprecedented £1000 per poster, making him Britain’s highest paid film artist in history. This at a time when the average British male manual worker earnt £13 a week. The MGA Twin Cam’s price new was around £1200.
The MG’s first registered address was 49 Princes Gate, Kensington, SW7 and it resided there between 2nd October 1959 and the 19th January 1963. Nestling between Chelsea and Kensington, it was a short walk to Kensington Palace and Gardens, Royal Albert Hall and The Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.
The MG’s second registered address was 12 Kensington Court Place, Kensington, W8 and it resided there between 19th January 1963 and July 1963. Just a mile west from Renato’s first London home in Princes Gate, he was now living and working in the very heart of Kensington.
RENATO FRATINI’S EARLY LIFE: ROME
Renato Candido Attilio Fratini was born in Civitavecchia, a port town just outside Rome, in October 1932. He studied at the city’s famous Accademia di Belle Arti de Roma, before beginning his career as a commercial artist in Rome. He began work at the Guerri Studio; initially producing illustrations and comic strips.
In 1952 he moved to the Favalli Studio where he first began creating film posters and book covers. At this time the Favalli brothers ran the publicity department at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, making them the world’s most prolific producers of film posters. Fratini produced some iconic posters during this period, for a number of iconic American and Italian films, such as Invaders from Mars (1953), La Donna Piu Bella Del Mondo (1955) and The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
Colin Holloway, a colleague and friend in his later life, recalled a story about the man “He went into Studio Favelli one day and walked up to Favelli – who at that time was basically God – and simply said 'I am Renato Fratini and I’ve come to work with you' – as though Favelli himself should have felt privileged.”
In the late 1950s, following the death of one brother, the Favalli studio collapsed. Fratini began working for D’Ami; a Milan based studio set up in 1954 by the D’Ami brothers. Roy D’Ami was an illustrator and Piero D’Ami provided the capital. Fratini was commissioned to paint a number of book covers for one of their largest clients, Fleetway Publications, a magazine publishing company based in London. Renato illustrated a number of covers for the Sexton Blake series, a famous fictional British detective of this period, who appeared in comic books and novels throughout the 20th century. The narrative element of his work was a reflection in his success as a comic strip artist, which continued throughout his career.
In the late 1950s he was commissioned to work on a number of covers for the Sun, Sexton Blake and Thriller Picture Library comics and novel series. The
Sun comic ran from 1947 to 1959 with a total of 551 issues. Starting out as a mainly text-based story-paper, it had specialised in westerns and swashbuckling tales of old featuring pirates and outlaws. Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and Billy the Kid had all been popular and long-running features. Battler Britton was a late addition to the comic and one of the first war stories to appear. By the time Fratini lent his work to the title, the writing was probably on the wall. New comics like The Victor were on the way and Sun was looking tired.
Towards the end of the 1950s the D’Ami brothers fell out, work began to dry up and a number of their represented artists found work elsewhere….including Renato Fratini.
RENATO FRATINI: LONDON CALLING
At the end of 1958, at the age of 26 and a year before he bought MGA Twin Cam YD1/2497, Fratini was brought to London by Eric Pulford. Pulford was a fellow commercial artist who ran the Downton agency and held the Rank account and most of the other major studio accounts. He was a hugely powerful and influential figure. Rank was tied up with the Cinecitta studios in Rome and they had their own publicity studio over there - Studio Favalli.
Pulford Publicity was supported by the film company Rank and the Fleet Street agency Downton. Rank, Downton and Pulford Publicity worked with the largest film studios. In this era, when print was the primary form of film promotion, Pulford Publicity was responsible for more than 1,000 film poster designs. Inevitably Downton became involved with their Rome counterparts who were employing a large number of truly gifted artists. They were all classically trained, many from the Rome academy, and were hugely skilful and exciting painters. They weren’t getting paid well so Pulford offered more money and they came over to England to work on Rank posters.
Pulford would specify the design, layout and graphics; Fratini introduced the distinctive illustration to the composition. Before artists like Renato Fratini, film posters would often simply depict a scene from the film and be fairly formulaic. Fratini and his peers changed all that. Their film poster illustration attempted to capture the essence of the film; establishing a visual style that was definitively associated with each film. He quickly impressed with his technical ability and skillful draftsmanship, which was often marvelled upon by other artists and peers working at the time.
Colin Holloway, an account executive and later chief designer at Pulfords, was initially placed in charge of looking after Fratini - he spoke no English - though Holloway confirmed he quickly found his feet as he entered into the most productive period of his career.
A rpersonal landmark for Fratini was a party he attended in 1959 where he met and fell in love with a young fashion designer, divorcee Georgina Eve Butler. Gina, as she was known, was the daughter of Somerset Butler CIE, a colonial service officer and the son of the 7th Earl of Carrick. Her godfather was Sir Victor Sassoon. In 1961, at the age of 29, Renato married her. Holloway, who by that point had became a great friend of Renato, was his best man.
When she was interviewed by Sim Branaghan in 2003, Gina remembered Renato with undiminished affection “He was incredibly good looking, with wonderful eyes….very attractive and funny, with tremendous enthusiasms – he just seemed to be interested in everything.”
Holloway was less flattering, saying Fratini was “Short and stocky with thick, tight, curly black hair, a puckish face and hands like bunches of bananas.”
Fratini’s first studio was at 38 Harrington Gardens, Kensington and he later moved to a Victorian sculptor’s studio on Princes Gate. Michael Johnson, peer artist and illustrator revealed: “We were friendly with Renato Fratini. He worked in an old purpose built studio in London's Kensington district with a group of other illustrators, mainly Italians, and we all had a lot of fun. We all modelled for each other if the clients were too mean to pay for professional models."
When Renato and Gina married in 1961, they lived at 12 Kensington Court Place, about two minutes away from his studio. Gina recalls: “He really pulled me together and taught me so much about art. You can always see the honesty in his painting – I think he passed some of that onto me, the need for attention to detail, which is particularly important in clothes design.”
Everyone who knew Fratini in period agreed that he lived life to the full, indulging every possible taste to the maximum. Gina recalls “He loved food, loved drink, loved cigars, loved dancing….he just liked to generally live it up. He adored jazz and we were always out at Ronnie Scotts, He had great presence and tremendous passions. But really, we were very young and in a lot of ways rather immature.”
Sim Branaghan, author of British Film Posters said: “Fratini lived life to the fullest and was an incredibly self-indulgent character. He ate too much, drank too much, smoked huge cigars, went to clubs and got lucky with many incredibly attractive women. He had more sex than you and I could possibly dream of, which is why Gina eventually divorced him. The dark side is that at some point in the late 1960s his drinking became a problem and I believe he was an alcoholic.”
After their divorce in 1968 Renato got married again, to a young Jewish student, believed to be Klara Pelah but continued to see Gina occasionally.
Gina Fratini went on to become a famous society dress designer. Elizabeth Taylor chose a Gina Fratini dress for her second marriage to Richard Burton in 1975. Gina also dressed British royals including Princesses Margaret, Anne, Alexandra and Michael of Kent. Other famous clients included Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch. Diana Princess of Wales wore one of her creations for a 1990 official portrait by Terence Donovan and again, in April 1991, to a ballet during an official visit to Rio de Janeiro. Gina Fratini OBE died in London, aged 85, in May 2017. Zandra Rhodes said of her “Gina Fratini had a delightful personality, she was charming and vivacious.” A selection of Gina’s dresses are on permanent display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
RENATO FRATINI - FILM POSTERS
Fratini was on a retainer at Downtons with individual payments for work. He collaborated closely with Pulford and was commissioned to produce several film posters. In addition to the strong narrative elements, Fratini artwork has an almost tangible sense of atmosphere, which helps explain his popular appeal. He also experimented with mixed media to create contrast and texture which adds depth and intrigue. He would often create the background in acrylic and then use mixed acrylic inks over the top and finish with gouache.
Pulfords chief designer Colin Holloway described Fratini’s technique and approach to poster design: “He used to say it was as much about what you left
out as what you put in. Simplicity was the key to get the message across and the essential starting point was always good reference material. He had this incredible delicacy of touch – he could do the most finely detailed artwork imaginable. Mind you, he treated his brushes appallingly! He was always stealing mine and then I’d find them lying around days later, completely ruined.”
Holloway recalled “The first big poster he did was in 1964 for The Fall of The Roman Empire in vivid red acrylics. He demanded - and got - £100 for this and from this point prices rose steadily.”
His Peers are on record as saying:
“The only man I ever saw who could actually draw with a paintbrush” Ken Paul
“He had amazing graphic sense and colour sense, like no one else I’ve ever known – he seemed to paint with a sort of uninhibited expressionism. Renato was the most generous artist with his secret techniques – most kept them jealously to themselves.” Colin Holloway
"There was very special synergy between Renato and Vic Fair – outstandingly original designs interpreted as truly great artwork. A unique partnership of two geniuses, never to be repeated.” Colin Holloway
“He was incredible. He was like a machine – he could just bash things out overnight - amazing draughtsmanship.” Vic Fair
His early London posters are often better remembered, including Whistle Down the Wind (1961), Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Sporting Life (1963) and, probably the most famous of all, the second James Bond film From Russia With Love (1963) from a design by Eddie Paul in which he captures Sean Connery’s sardonic smirk to perfection. His work continued with The Chalk Garden (1964), Hot Enough for June (1964), Maroc7 (1966) and Khartoum (1966).
Fratini’s most famous series of posters is almost never credited to him: the Carry Ons. He illustrated the majority of these, mostly from designs by Pulford, from Don’t Lose Your Head (1967) up to Carry On at Your Convenience (1971). The latter, released that November, may well have been his final quad film poster. This series of 31 low-budget British comedy films are still the largest British film series to date.
By this point Fratini was earning an unprecedented £1000 per poster, making him Britain’s highest paid film artist in history. This was at a time when the average British male manual worker earnt £13 a week. For Waterloo (1970), featuring a dazzling battle scene, he was paid £2000. Vic Fair, Pulford chief designer and Fratini collaborator said "All that detail ... Fratini could just knock it in. Look closely, and there's actually nothing there! Genius, really.”
There is an amusing sidelight though for anyone who has ever carefully studied this poster, or any of his similar epic landscapes. His first wife Gina recalled “His trademark was always to put someone in the background weeing. He’s be working away at his board, going ‘I must get my wee-wee in somewhere!”
Gina shared an interesting story in her 2003 interview with Sim Branaghan: “When Renato was studying at the Academy in Rome, one of the exercises the students all had to do was draw an egg, from life, first thing in the morning, then later show it to the tutor. Well one morning Renato really couldn’t be bothered with this and just drew an egg from memory on the train, thinking it looked perfect anyway. But when he tried to show it in class he was immediately pounced on – the tutor simply said ‘That isn’t a real egg, you’ve just made it up.’ Renato always maintained this taught him that you can’t cheat art – it has to be honest or it doesn’t work properly.”
Since owning the MG, James secured two of Renato Fratini’s original illustrations via separate collectors. In the course of these purchases it turned out one knew Fratini in London, saying "A character indeed. He used to swan into his agency in Soho mid-morning, say hello, leave for coffee and a quick liaison with one of the local ladies and then back to work"
RENATO FRATINI - BOOK AND MAGAZINE ARTWORK
Fratini pursued a lucrative sideline in bookjackets and covers. He completed work for publishers Corgi, Collins, Coronet, Fontana, Heinemann, Hodder, Panther and Pan - amongst others. His artwork for The Golden Keel, published in 1963, demonstrates the rich painting technique, which characterised his Fontana period, his later book illustrations combined paint and pencil to create evocative collages and landscapes.
He was commissioned by the legendary art director, Germano Facetti at Penguin to create new covers for the best-selling romance novels written by Daphne du Maurier. The well-received covers combined paint and pencil to create distinctive tableaux of juxtaposed images with a rough unfinished tone. A number of du Maurier’s novels were turned into memorable films, including Rebecca which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Fratini produced a number of covers for other historical romance novels by authors such as Catherine Gaskin, Victoria Holt and Norah Lofts and was the favoured artist at Fontana. His work was still being used years after his death until styles gradually changed.
Fratini’s first UK magazine commission was a double page spread for Woman’s Mirror in 1963. He also had regular work as a magazine illustrator for journals such as Homes and Garden, Woman’s Journal and Woman. He often used the palette knife and the unpolished nature of his work was both atmospheric and popular with art directors who could use it without needing to spend more on finishing.
His cover artwork for the March 1968 edition of Argosy: The Short Story Magazine, which demonstrates the style of an earlier commission in 1965 for King magazine, where, over the course of four issues, Fratini illustrated a Peter O’Donnell Modesty Blaise serial. Modesty Blaise, a long running British newspaper cartoon, followed the adventures of a fictional action heroine in her spoof spy-fi adventures.
RENATO FRATINI’S LAST MOVE - MEXICO
By 1969 Fratini felt he had seen enough of England and early in 1970 left for Mexico. He did plenty of commercial work for America, including ads for Pepsi-Cola, while still contributing the odd assignment for Downtons (including the Carry On films).
Having interviewed both Colin Holloway and Gina Fratini for his book, Sim Branaghan, was asked why Renato chose Mexico. He said "It’s hard to say really. He was paying a lot of tax in England. I know that he’d remarried by this point so perhaps it was that his new wife, about whom I know very little, had a connection there? Or maybe he just fancied somewhere exotic, who knows?"
Colin Holloway recalled how Downton's had difficulty getting money out to him as cheques had a habit of disappearing in the post. An Italian collaborator from the Studio D'ami in period met Fratini in Mexico; saying "he always had a glass full of whiskey on his work table." It was believed he got a job with their government and settled there on a permanent basis.
In the summer of 1973, at the age of 41, Renato collapsed at a beach party and died from a massive heart attack. Years of excess had finally taken their toll, he was dead at just forty years old, a tragic waste of a brilliant talent. Sim Branaghan said of Renato's death "Nobody was as talented and gifted as him. You can talk to all of his contemporaries who’ll confirm that, but he’d burnt himself out by the time he was forty".
Renato Fratini’s story perfectly fits the traditional art-world stereotype of the doomed Bohemian genius. As the most gifted, richly rewarded and ultimately famous artist to have ever worked in the field, his shadow continues to fall heavily across the world of British film posters.
British Film Posters, Sim Branaghan, Published 2006
Film Posters of the 60s, Graham Marsh
Some of the original artwork images found in the gallery are sourced and attributed directly to the Lever Gallery with sincere thanks. This brings the galleries to life - matching his original work to the ultimate published work - adding to the history of this car's amazing charitable legacy: