The Dentist bought for its spiritual home

  • 31 August 2011

The Dentist, by renowned portrait artist, Sir John Lavery, has been purchased by the British Dental Association's Museum with the help of the Art Fund.

The Dentist by Sir John Lavery, 1929

The Dentist by Sir John Lavery, 1929

The Dentist, by renowned portrait artist, Sir John Lavery, has been purchased by the British Dental Association’s Museum with the help of the Art Fund. Painted in 1929, it features dentist Conrad Ackner treating his patient, the artist’s wife, Lady Lavery.

The Dentist

The work is significant both in dental and art history terms, being the only known accurate depiction of the early twentieth century dentist in a surgery, and by one of the leading portrait painters of the time. The painting is set in Ackner’s Welbeck Street practice in London and reveals aspects of the clinical environment including an early x-ray machine and headlamp, examples of which are already held by the museum.

Sir John Lavery

The artist achieved success with a group of fellow painters known as the Glasgow Boys. He worked as a society painter and also served as an Official War Artist during WWI. Famous works of his include portraits of Sir Winston Churchill and Michael Collins, and his painting The Gold Turban recently sold at Sotheby’s for £500,000.

When to see it

The painting itself will go on permanent display and is expected to be the highlight of guided tours. To celebrate the purchase, the museum is staging a temporary exhibition telling the story behind the painting, the artist and the dentist. Featuring examples of objects depicted in the painting, it also includes a scrapbook compiled by Ackner’s staff, which records the King of Norway and Marlene Dietrich amongst his patients and gives a fascinating insight into the everyday life of the surgery.

The £60,000 required for the purchase was raised through donations from individuals and British Dental Association branches and grants from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.