2nd October 1959 – 31st July 1963
The MGA Twin Cam’s first owner was an Italian by the name of Renato Fratini. At the time he was a highly successful and pioneering commercial artist living and working in Central London. He was just 27 when he collected his brand new MGA Twin Cam. His birthday was in October so highly likely the car was a birthday present.
First registered address: 49 Princes Gate, Kensington, SW7 – 2nd October 1959 to 19th January 1963. Nestling between Chelsea and Kensington, a short walk to Kensington Palace and Gardens, Royal Albert Hall and The Science Museum and V&A. Today’s value for this five story property, where he lived and worked, is over £7m!
Second registered address: 12 Kensington Court Place, Kensington, W8 – 19th January 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. Today’s value for this six story property – over £11m!
Renato Fratini was born in Civitavecchia, a port town just outside Rome, in October 1932. He studied at the 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. Renato 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).
In the late 1950s, following the death of one brother, the Favalli studio collapsed. Renato 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. Renato 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. 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.
In 1958 aged 26 – and just one year before he bought his MGA Twin Cam – Renato was brought to London by Eric Pulford, a commercial artist who had set up a design studio in London in 1943. Pulford had previously worked with him in Italy at 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.
Renato quickly found his feet and entered into the most productive period of his career. 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’. In addition to the strong narrative elements, Fratini artwork has an almost tangible sense of atmosphere, which helps explain his popular appeal. Renato 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.
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 Renato 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.
Renato continued to collaborate closely with Eric Pulford and was commissioned to produce several film posters. Pulford would specify the design, layout and graphics; Renato introduced the distinctive illustration to the composition. There is a bold, graphic quality to his work that was very characteristic of great Sixties art. Renato’s filmic style translated across his work. His illustrations are characterised by narrative elements that tell a story in their own right. Renato’s illustrations would capture the essence of the film or book and, in the process, create a unique artwork. Before artists like Renato Fratini, film posters would often simply depict a scene from the film and be fairly formulaic. After Renato Fratini, 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 working at the time.
Renato very much enjoyed his life in London and was infamous for his love of a good party, quickly gaining a reputation as a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. Renato thrived on the London scene in the 1960s. Despite this, he was still able to turn out stunning pieces of artwork with relatively little notice. Renato had a great confidence in his own abilities which fortunately was justified by his skill.
In 1961, at the age of 29, Renato married a divorcee by the name of Georgina Caroline 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. Her father died soon after their ceremony in 1962 and Gina Fratini went on to become a famous society dress designer. Elizabeth Taylor chose a 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. 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.
Stepping back into the 1960’s and married life, Renato was creating some of his best work; film posters for Whistle Down the Wind (1961), Phantom of the Opera (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963). During this period, Renato was earning around £1000 per poster. This was at a time when the average male yearly wage was £18 a year. His highest paying film poster was for Waterloo (1970) for which he earnt £2000 (the MGA’s list price was £843!). He also produced a number of posters for the hugely popular Carry On films including Carry on up the Khyber (1968), Carry on Henry (1971) and Carry on at Your Convenience (1971). This series of 31 low-budget British comedy films are still the largest British film series to date.
Renato’s first UK magazine commission was a double page spread for Woman’s Mirror in 1963. In 1965 he was asked to work on Modesty Blaise, for King magazine over four issues. Modesty Blaise, a long running British newspaper cartoon, followed the adventures of a fictional action heroine in her spoof spy-fi adventures. Renato worked for a number of London publishers, such as Coronet, Hodder, Corgi and Pan. 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. A number of du Maurier’s novels were turned into memorable films, including Rebecca which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Renato produced a number of covers for other historical romance novels by authors such as Catherine Gaskin, Victoria Holt and Norah Lofts. Renato also had regular work as a magazine illustrator for journals such as Homes and Garden, Woman’s Journal and Woman.
In 1969, aged 37, Renato had a broken marriage behind him and was losing money through tax bills. He made the decision to leave London and head for Mexico from where he continued to paint for advertising firms in America, including Pepsi Cola, as well as the odd assignment for the Downton agency back in London.
In the summer of 1973, at the age of 41, Renato collapsed at a beach party and died from a massive heart attack. His years of excess had finally caught him up.
“The only man I ever saw who could actually draw with a paintbrush” Ken Paul
“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” Mrs Renato Fratini, aka Gina Fratini OBE.
Sim Branaghan, author of British Film Posters, says of Fratini “He was the one artist who most embodies that stereotype of the doomed Bohemian genius. He 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. He was paying a fortune in tax and so got fed up of England; he relocated to live and work in Mexico. Nobody was as talented and gifted, all of his contemporaries would confirm that, but sadly he’d burnt himself out by the time he was forty.”