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Zorba the Greek's South African art for sale at Bonhams in London on March 20th
Lucky Sibiya, Three Figures. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Eight works from the collection of Anthony Quinn, the late American actor, feature in the next Bonhams sale of South African art on March 20th in New Bond Street, London. Including paintings and sculptures by Cecil Skotnes, Lucky Sibiya, Dumile Feni-Mhlaba and Cyprian Shilakoe, the selection ranges in price from £2,500 to £30,000.

Anthony Quinn (1915-2001) was known to the world for his performances in films such as La Strada, Zorba the Greek, Lawrence of Arabia and Viva Zapata! – a stellar career in which he won two Oscars. What is less well known is that he was a keen artist and collector. As a child, he won an award for a plaster bust of Abraham Lincoln, and he often sketched the movie stars he saw when his father, an assistant cameraman, took him to the studio. On one occasion, he was paid $25 by Douglas Fairbanks for a drawing of the star.

Later, he studied art and architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. While an offer of a substantial weekly salary from a film studio drew Quinn away from this line of work (with the blessing of Wright, who commented, “Take it. You’ll never make that much with me“), the actor continued to explore his affinity for art.

In 1976 Quinn traveled to South Africa to film Target of an Assassin, directed by Peter Collinson and released in South Africa as Tigers Don't Cry in 1977. During his time in Johannesburg, he was invited to a dinner party at the home of African art dealer Vittorino Meneghelli. Quinn was struck by the beauty of the artworks on display in the house and bought quite a few. Quinn also acquired works directly from several artists, as well as from Meneghelli’s Totem Gallery, Gallery 21, the Goodman Gallery and the Lidchi Gallery in Johannesburg, followed by the Grosvenor Gallery in London.

During his time in Johannesburg, Quinn visited Cecil Skotnes at home. The artist's wife Thelma recalled, in a 2008 interview: "He wanted to meet Cecil so he came to the house. He was an artist himself, and he said, 'Cecil, I love your work'."

The Portrait of Anthony Quinn (lot 106) – a painting on incised wooden panel – was commissioned at that meeting. Quinn sent the artist a photograph, humorously inscribed "see if you can fix the face". Quinn later wrote to the artist to express his delight with the finished portrait, which was also used to illustrate his biography.

The artist's daughter Pippa recalls the artist and actor enjoying several good dinners together during Quinn's time in South Africa, with Cecil adopting Quinn's famous lines in the 1964 film Zorba the Greek about being "the whole catastrophe" as a family saying.

Hannah O’Leary, head of South African art at Bonhams, adds: “It is fascinating to see what Quinn collected during his time in South Africa; he obviously had a keen eye and was given some excellent advice. Many of the dealers at the time regaled me with stories of his visit – of the day the great Anthony Quinn visited their humble gallery, or of raucous dinners at the famous Plaka restaurant in Hyde Park and parties at Vittorino Meneghelli’s home. He obviously felt quite at home when surrounded by gallerists and artists, and enjoyed his time in South Africa immensely.”

Quinn continued to paint and sculpt throughout his career. He had always carved small pieces of stone and wood he found while he was on location in the deserts of North Africa and in the Middle East. In the 1980s he began to rework these into full-sized sculptures which caught the eye of art dealers and he began to exhibit his work internationally. Following his death, the Anthony Quinn Trust selected key pieces from his immense collection including several South African artworks and Quinn’s own work for the US traveling exhibition Anthony Quinn’s Eye: A Lifetime of Creating and Collecting Art.

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