Leonard Cohen art: a beginner’s guide

Leonard Cohen art? For investors and collectors?


Leonard Cohen art isn’t as well-known as the work of some other rock musicians, but his limited edition prints demand inclusion in any self-respecting collection of rock art.

The art of Leonard Cohen appeals to the intellect: it has something worthwhile to say. And to the heart: it evokes emotions. It also has a worldview consistent with Leonard Cohen’s better-known creations as a writer, musician and performer.

Maybe because it’s dominated by sparse line drawings, the art of Leonard Cohen takes me back to that of 20thC French creative polymath Jean Cocteau. Like Cohen, Cocteau’s glittering creative trajectory started with poetry. He added visual art to his eclectic cv later.

Leonard Cohen painting and drawing

Leonard Cohen – Grecian Woman, © Leonard Cohen

The art of Leonard Cohen focuses on a handful of key themes – portraits (self-portraits constitute a substantial part of his work), women, often without clothes, and domestic, everyday scenes.

Leonard Cohen pictures, occasionally accompanied by fragments of his writing, are by turns poignant and witty. They are nakedly honest. Some are frivolous, many are dark.

Drawing for pleasure

According to his diligent biographer Ira Nadel, Leonard Cohen has been drawing for pleasure for over half a century – he documented his stay at Columbia University, New York, in 1956-7 in notebooks filled with drawings and caricatures.

Until recently, though, the art of Leonard Cohen remained private. Claims that many of his books and album covers incorporate his artwork don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Even the artwork for his first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) – which Cohen himself produced and self-published – used illustrations supplied by a friend. Ira Nadel recounts several cases where Cohen’s artwork, intended for book and album covers, was rejected by publishers.

So, while several Leonard Cohen album covers carry drawings and paintings, few are by Cohen. The only CDs clearly using Leonard Cohen artwork are Songs From A Room and the later Dear Heather and Old Ideas.

The artwork of the CDs Greatest Hits, The Future, Cohen Live, More Best Of, Recent Songs, and New Skin For The Old Ceremony is not credited to Cohen. Nor, as I see from today’s Amazon delivery, does Popular Problems carry any Leonard Cohen artwork.

Sharing, for free

Leonard Cohen started sharing his art, effectively giving it away, in 1997. You can still enjoy/download/print/share images on the Blacking Pages section of The Leonard Cohen Files, the exemplary (approved) fan website. And on a dedicated page of the official Leonard Cohen website, which presents 55 images to “view and share”.

An appreciative Stina Lundberg Dabrowski, in a Swedish TV interview (2001), had been surprised to hear that Leonard Cohen drew pictures for pleasure, gave them away, was not interested in commercialising them… had never had an exhibition… .

Many of these images were later published in print form in Book of Longing (2006).

Leonard Cohen art

Book Of Longing, © Leonard Cohen 2007

Leonard Cohen art goes commercial

Soon afterwards, of course, Cohen was forced to rebuild his finances with an unprecedented burst of activity – touring, recording… and monetising his art.

So a selection of line drawings was enhanced by colour and produced as limited edition prints, numbered and signed by Cohen. Edition sizes are typically 100 (for 30″ x 20″ prints) and 20 (30″ x 40″).

Leonard Cohen limited editions have been sold mainly via exhibitions in small commercial galleries in Canada and Europe, including:

June: Drawn to Words, Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto.
July: A Private Gaze, Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester, England.
A few dozen pigment prints of drawings and sketches. Priced at £1,000-£3,000, according to a report on the impressively detailed Leonard Cohen Through The Years website.

Brian D Johnson (macleans.ca, 12 Jun 2008) asked Cohen: “How did your art exhibit do? Leonard replied “It did very well. And continues to do very well… I was able to pay a lot of lawyers…”

December: Linda Lando Fine Art, Vancouver.

Feb-May: The Leonard Cohen Artworks, Montreal High Lights Festival.
About 50 works, priced at $1,500-6,000, according to a report from The Canadian Press on Leonard Cohen Through The Years.

August: Galleri Ramfjord, Oslo, Norway.

March: The Poet/The Painter, Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg.
35 pieces, priced $2,500-7000, according to Carolin Vesely in the Winnipeg Free Press, on Leonard Cohen Through The Years.
August: Galleri Ramfjord, Oslo, Norway.

The highest profile dealer currently selling Leonard Cohen art is the Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester, England, which lists 56 items in its online shop, inviting potential customers to “contact us for a price”.

Leonard Cohen painting

Leonard Cohen – The End of the Day, © Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen art: the legacy

For the first three quarters of his life, Leonard Cohen chose to keep his artwork to himself. Recent years have seen it receive long-overdue public exposure.

Leonard Cohen art is a fine body of work, enriching his legacy of outstanding albums and live performance and a (slightly less impressive) shelf-full of poetry collections and novels.

If I were curating an exhibition of essential works of rock art, I’d feel compelled to include one or more of Leonard Cohen’s evocative limited edition prints.

Further information

Researching this post in my private library and online, I found the following sources helpful in verifying and cross-checking information. They will enable you to dig deeper.
* Ira B Nadel, Various Positions: A Life Of Leonard Cohen, Bloomsbury, 1996
* Jeff Burger (ed), Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen, Omnibus, 2014
Leonard Cohen official website
The Leonard Cohen Files
Leonard Cohen Through The Years


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