Alongside James Cagney, Edward G Robinson epitomised the prohibition-era gangster. The convincing quirks and ticks Robinson (and Cagney) transmitted to the silver screen from the bustling streets of Chicago and New York lent a fresh verisimilitude to the new realism of 1930s cinema. He pulled the trigger of his six-shot pistol with the confidence of Capone, he cracked wise with fellow film hustlers as easefully as a bona fide “made man” would, but his fictitious demeanour belied his sensitive nature.
Like Cagney, the personality behind the tough persona was quiet, domestic and interested in beauty. He was more likely to be found leafing through a French novel than socking a hostile bootlegger on the jaw. Over his seventy-nine years, Robinson went from Romanian émigré to Hollywood star, and from Hollywood star to renowned art collector. The collection he acquired included monumental pieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism by some of the most accomplished artists associated with those movements. His European acquisitions may have singled out his reputation on the Hollywood art circuit, but he also had the historic distinction of being one of the first international collectors of Frida Kahlo’s exuberant body of work.