Alfred Cohen

Although his professed heroes were Rembrandt and Picasso, the resolutely representational work of the London-based American artist Alfred Cohen, owed most to French post-Impressionist masters like Bonnard, Dufy and Rouault, to the roving expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, and to artists of the Jewish diaspora, such as Chagall and Soutine.

A devoted Europhile, who spent the second half of his life in England, Cohen was a brilliant colourist and deft draughtsman. In London from 1960, he had sellout exhibitions with the Brook Street Gallery, and later with Roland, Browse and Delbanco. Besides reworking the subjects of the commedia dell’ arte , he offered vibrant oils of the Seine, the Thames and the Channel ports, and some telling portraits – his likeness of his friend, the actor Anthony Quinn, may be his masterpiece.

Born in Chicago, of Latvian émigré stock, Cohen’s studies at the Art Institute of Chic- ago were interrupted by wartime service in the US army air force, chiefly as a navigator in Pacific-based Liberator and Flying Fortress bombers. A love of movement, and of the aerial view, had a lasting place in his art.

After graduating in 1949, Cohen was awarded a scholarship to travel in Europe – and never went home again, save for brief visits. In the 1950s, with his first wife, Virginia, he shared a studio with the Californian artist Sam Francis in Paris, but was as likely to be found at the wheel of a Bugatti as painting. In France and Rome, he mixed with movie stars, including Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren and Kirk Douglas, and his patrons included James Mason, Sam Wanamaker and Stanley Baker.

Following his divorce, he moved to Kent with his second wife, Diana, in 1963, and finally to north Norfolk in 1978. Here, painting was combined with print-making, and his hand- coloured etchings of flowers were to prove especially popular across Europe, America and Japan.

Cohen’s strong sense of space and design was also turned to the renovation of old houses. When converting the former schoolhouse at Wighton, near Wells-next-the-sea, into a studio, print workshop and art gallery.

Despite the onset of Parkinson’s disease in the mid-1990s, Cohen retained a restless energy. He produced witty cartoons and constructions, and seemed ready to paint or draw on any surface. Numerous artists received his advice and encouragement; one especially anxious painter was even given telephone tutorials when a tricky picture was close to completion.

A generous host, and a great raconteur, Cohen held centre-stage at any gathering, with a stream of astounding anecdotes. He had a matchless knowledge of Hollywood – on and off screen – and, indeed, there was a film star’s air about him, and a particular echo of Anthony Quinn.

He is survived by his wife and his stepson from their marriage.

Alfred Cohen, artist, born May 9 1920; died January 25 2001

Ian Collins 2001

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