Fry was born in Highgate, north London, into a wealthy Quaker family. He studied painting at the Slade School of Art, London, but became known chiefly as an art critic, writer and exhibition organiser. In 1903 he co-founded The Burlington Magazine, and that year helped launch the National Art Collections Fund. He was curator of painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from 1906-10. The two exhibitions he organised at the Grafton Galleries in London, Manet and the Post-Impressionists (1910) and the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition (1912), had a transformative impact on British culture, introducing avant-garde artists ranging from Cézanne to Picasso to a wide British public.