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Self-made man and art collector Frank Cohen discusses his first art purchase.

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Father & Two Sons by LS Lowry, 1950. Cohen’s first piece by the same artist was The Family

Born (1943) in Manchester, Frank Cohen is sometimes referred to as ‘the Saatchi of the North.” The founder of a successful chain of DIY stores, he began collecting modern British artists such as LS Lowry and Edward Burra in the 1970s, before turning his attention to the contemporary art scene. In 2003 he was among the panel of judges that awarded Grayson Perry the Turner Prize, and in 2007 he launched Initial Access, a vast exhibition space on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, has dubbed him “one of the great collectors working anywhere in Europe or America today,” and his collection includes works by Stanley Spencer, LS Lowry, Edward Burra, Franz West, Carsten Höller and Ai Weiwei.


We asked the great collector, What was the first piece of work you purchased?


“The very first piece of art I bought was a Lowry, in the late 1970s. It was six inches by four inches, postcard size. It’s funny how it came about. I was in the paint and wallpaper trade, in Manchester, and one day a guy came in and asked if I wanted to give a nice-looking girl a job for the summer holidays. I was single in those days, and I thought: ‘”Send any bird you want!’” So Cherryl – now my wife – began working in the shop.

It turned out her father was an art dealer, a very funny man called Jack Garson, with a warehouse full of objets d’art: Renaissance Italian paintings, suits of armor, snooker tables, all sorts. He was also selling signed Lowry prints, just pieces of paper, really, with a photograph of the painting. Anyway, when I started to take Cherryl out, I used to go to the house to pick her up – and every time I went round there, her father made me buy another signed bloody Lowry print from him.

Did I want them? Did I heck! But it got me interested in buying an original. I paid £1,100 for The Family; even back then, you could never buy a Lowry dead cheap. I’m a northern lad, that’s why I liked his work. And I didn’t know anything else; I’d just started looking at art and had no idea about other artists. After that, I kept buying more and more Lowrys whenever I had the money. I ended up with about 47. I’ve still got three or four, but not The Family; it was tiny, and I traded it in for something bigger.”

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