La Turbie: Sir James Dunn

Salvador Dalí

Spain (1904 - 1989)
La Turbie: Sir James Dunn, 1949
oil on canvas
132.7 x 90.5 cm
Collection of the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí/ SODRAC (2014)

Born in New Brunswick, James Hamet Dunn became a lawyer then stockbroker, eventually moving to England, a major source for Canadian investment money. He prospered in London becoming a multi-millionaire and also a close friend of fellow New Brunswicker Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook. Sir Dunn and his third wife, Marcia Anastasia Christoforides, were avid art collectors and trusted advisors to Lord Beaverbrook for his art acquisitions.

In 1947 Sir Dunn was dining at La Pavilion in New York City, where he found one of the restaurant patrons staring at him throughout the evening. This patron eventually sent the proprietor over with the request to be introduced. Dunn agreed and the patron rush over and declared, “Caesar. The countenance, the bone formation of Caesar—Augustus Caesar. You are a Roman!” Dunn, proud of his Irish ancestry, argued heatedly over the pronouncement, but the patron, Salvador Dalí, would have none of it. Eventually they found common ground and Dalí convinced Dunn to sit for a portrait. The Portrait of Lord Dunn, later named La Turbie, shows Dunn as Caesar. While not insulted, Dunn was not impressed until several months later when he visited the town of La Turbie in southeast France. There he visited the Tropaea Augusti, a monument to Caesar’s subjugation of the Alpine region. Lady Dunn snapped a picture of Sir James next to a statue of Augustus Caesar, and when the film was developed, Dunn was himself convinced of the resemblance.