Donald Hamilton Fraser was born in 1929 and educated at Maidenhead Grammar School. He spent a short period as an editorial trainee at the Sunday Times and completed his National Service in the late 1940s.
Donald Hamilton Fraser studied at St Martin's School of Art in London from 1949 to 1952 alongside Frank Auerbach, Joe Tilson, Sheila Fell, Jack Smith, Leon Kossoff and Sandra Blow. His first solo exhibition followed very shortly afterwards at Gimpel Fils, London, in 1953. In the same year Donald Hamilton Fraser was awarded a French Government Scholarship to live and work in Paris. His assessors included John Piper and Anthony Blunt. In 1954, Donald married Judith Wentworth-Shields, a fellow student from St Martin's, at the British Embassy in Paris.
Returning to England in 1955, Donald Hamilton Fraser wrote for Arts Review for eighteen months as a way of supplementing his artist's income but was soon able to focus entirely on his painting. By this time Donald Hamilton Fraser was already showing regularly not only at Gimpel Fils, but also at the prestigious Paul Rosenberg gallery in New York. In 1958, Carel Weight took him on as a tutor in the painting school at the Royal College of Art where he remained for the next 25 years teaching alongside Peter Blake and Julian Trevelyan. While he was there he tutored David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Therese Oulton and Ron Kitaj.
Donald Hamilton Fraser was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Art in 1970 and an Honorary Fellow in 1984, an Associate RA in 1975 and a Royal Academician in 1985. He was Honorary Curator at the Royal Academy from 1992 to 1999, a Trustee there from 1994 to 2000, a Member of the Royal Fine Art Commission from 1986 to 2000, and had served on the council of the Artists' General Benevolent Fund since 1981 (as Chairman for several years in the 1980s) and as Vice-President of the Royal Overseas League since 1986.
Throughout his life Donald Hamilton Fraser was a voracious reader and contributed widely to artistic debate. He wrote regularly for art journals and as a ballet critic as well as publishing two books; Gauguin's 'Vision after the Sermon' (1969) and Dancers A Book of Ballet Paintings (1989).