On the morning of March 16, 90-year-old Diana Cohen travelled from Norfolk to King's College London's Bush House in London for the opening of ‘Alfred Cohen: An American Artist in Europe’, a retrospective of her late husband’s work and the first public exhibition of it since 2001, the year he died. But by that evening the show had been formally closed to the public as part of London’s coronavirus lockdown. The product of 20 years work, and a labour of love on the part of Diana Cohen and Max Saunders (the artist’s stepson and co-curator of the show), it had been open less than 24 hours.
Alfred Cohen was born in Chicago in 1920, the son of Latvian immigrants to the United States. His American art education preached the virtue of all things French and, not long after the Second World War, he moved to Paris, the first step in a new life that ended with his permanently relocating to Britain. His paintings – many of which are landscapes – are a pool of different influences swirling together. There are river views bearing the wispy imprint of Impressionism; a patchwork of blocky, boldly coloured rooftops in a borderline abstract manner; and a parade of joyfully creepy carnivalesque characters completed along the wobbly, whimsical lines of Marc Chagall.
Best of all, he painted countless images of London and the Thames, filled with nods to Whistler and Monet, but imbued with something more modern and melancholy. They’re empty, quiet vistas – and they feel weirdly appropriate for right now.
The exhibition is still installed at Bush House, but no one can go and see it. It’s closed to the public, like all the other art shows in London. We were so touched when we heard the story of Diana coming all the way to London for this lovingly assembled exhibition only for it to close before anyone could see it that we decided we’d put as much of Alfred Cohen’s art online as possible. That way people can still enjoy it, even if they can't see it in person.
So here are some of Alfred Cohen’s paintings from the exhibition, selected by Diana Cohen and Max Saunders. We think they’re lovely, and hope you do too.
‘Coastal Picture’, 1966
‘Confrontation Bergamesque’, 1963
‘Docklands Night’, 1961
‘Harbour Approach’, 1963
‘L’Orient Seen from Port Louis at Night’, 1957
‘Lambeth Pier’, 1960
‘Life Boat Cafe’, 1988
‘Near Goudhurst’, 1965
‘River at Night’, 1963
‘Thames View III’, 1960-62
‘Wapping Pier and Tower Bridge’, 1961
Want to read about even more art? Check out our pick of London’s best art mags.