Alfred Cohen was born to parents of Latvian-Jewish heritage in Chicago, USA on 9 May 1920. After serving as an arial navigator with the US army air force during the Second World War, he resumed his interrupted studies at the Chicago Institute of Art, graduating in 1949 and travelling to Europe on a scholarship. In the 1950s, with his first wife, Virginia (née Adler), he shared a studio in Paris with the Californian artist Sam Francis and held solo exhibitions in Germany and Paris. 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. He moved to London in 1960 and in 1963, following a divorce, he moved to Kent with his second wife, Diana Saunders, and finally to north Norfolk in 1978, where the couple converted the old schoolhouse at Wighton, near Wells-next-the-sea, into a studio, print workshop and art gallery. Alfred Cohen died in King's Lynn, Norfolk, England in 2001. His work is represented in UK collections including the Ben Uri Collection, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, and the Sainsbury Centre.

Cohen's first London exhibition was with Ben Uri Gallery in 1958, followed by further solo London shows at the Obelisk Gallery (1960), the Kaplan Gallery (1961), the Brook Street Gallery (1963) and in 1969 (also 1974 and 1976) with the émigré dealers Roland, Browse and Delbanco. In addition, he also held solo shows in Belfast, Cambridge, Harrogate, King's Lynn, Leeds, Rye and York, as well as Heidelberg, Hannover, Paris, Toronto, Montreal, Tokyo and Cape Town. He had joint exhibitions with Josef Herman, Patrick Hall, and Mary Newcomb and his work was also included in international mixed exhibitions including 'Five Americans in Britain' at the US Embassy, London. His subjects included the Commedia dell' Arte and riverscapes of the Seine, the Thames and the Channel ports. A recent reassessment of Alfred Cohen's life, career and reputation has included two major study days at the Courtauld Institute of Art (2018) and the Paul Mellon Center (2019), and a major centenary exhibition, co-curated by Max Saunders and Sarah MacDougall at The Arcade, Bush House, King's College London (2020) Alfred Cohen died on 25 January 2001.