LONDON - Arts correspondent for the Guardian Mark Brown talked to collector Frank Cohen about L. S. Lowry and a remarkable portrait appearing for sale this November. A full version of the story appears in the Guardian here.
Mark Brown: I believe you knew Lowry personally?
Frank Cohen: I would see Lowry around Manchester and used to visit him at least once a week. I remember sitting in his front room for about four hours, having gone there to see if I could buy something from him. He wouldn’t make you a cup of tea or a drink, and was very canny. He said “I’m just going to the backroom to get something” and I asked “Can I come with you?” and he answered “Don’t worry son, if I need any removals I’ll ask for Pickfords”. I never actually managed to buy anything directly from him.
Throughout his career, Lowry suffered from those who thought he lacked sophistication.
I think people used to think he was a little simple, but he was a highly intelligent and a proper professional painter. He wasn’t naive. As a person, he was jovial, he was fabulous, he was the salt of the earth to be honest with you.
When did you start collecting Lowry?
I’d started collecting early in my career, through my wife’s father, who put me in touch with someone who owned some Lowrys. I bought a little postcard-sized picture, which I think was called A Family. That started me off and every few quid I had I used to go and buy another Lowry.
How did you come to acquire A Father and Two Sons?
This painting reminded me of my first job in an office near Piccadilly Station in Manchester, where there was a guy who arrived every morning in a bowler hat and had these two gofers with him. I bought it in the late 1990s, treating myself using the money I got from selling my business. At that time, it was probably the most anyone had paid for a Lowry.
Do you have any idea about who these three men are?
Lowry painted ordinary people, who weren’t affluent. They are somebody, but nobody. Real, but not real. If you were in Manchester in the 1950s you would have seen men like this and Lowry carried on working as a rent collector even when he was quite an established artist in London, which I think was important to him not only for his own identity, but also for his research. Out on the streets he would be seeing his subject matter.
What has prompted you to sell the work?
I always say though that if you look at a picture in a gallery, they’re dead because they’re not going anywhere. I like things that have travelled. Pictures like this are rooted in Manchester and its people, but they have got a universal quality to them. That’s what makes Lowry important and relevant today. It has been on loan at the Lowry Centre for four or five years and then at Chatsworth and then the Tate. I would love this to go to someone who really appreciates it.
LAURENCE STEPHEN LOWRY, R.A., FATHER AND TWO SONS. ESTIMATE £1,500,000–2,500,000.
You mentioned reputation, how it has shot up really in recent years?
This is a true story - I was in a restaurant in London a few years ago with my wife, and Lucian Freud was sitting in the corner. We started talking and I asked him who he liked as an artist. He said “Auerbach and Lowry” and I couldn’t believe it, I really was amazed. He said he was a fantastic artist and he loved him. There you are - from Freud’s own mouth.
Gallery Talk by Michael Howard
L.S. Lowry, Father and Two Sons
Sunday 15th November, 2pm
Join us on Sunday 15th November for a gallery talk by acclaimed art historian Michael Howard on L.S Lowry’s masterpiece Father and Two Sons, which is to be included in our 17th Novembersale of Modern & Post-War British Art.
Author of Lowry: A Visionary Artist, Howard will take us on the journey of the painting’s inception, through the hands of its prestigious previous owner, the infamous Monty Bloom, and will discuss the position of the work as one of the most important figurative paintings of the artist’s career.