BDA close to acquiring a piece of dental history

A painting by Belfast’s own Glasgow Boy is in the association’s sights

The British Dental Association (BDA)’s Museum is close to acquiring an oil painting by a Belfast-born artist to add to its collection.

Painted in 1929 by Sir John Lavery, The Dentist is the only known accurate depiction of an early 20th century dentist in a surgery, and by one of the leading portrait painters of the time.

Set in dentist Conrad Ackner’s Welbeck Street practice in London, the painting depicts Ackner treating his patient, the artist’s wife Lady Lavery. It reveals aspects of the clinical environment including an early X-ray machine and headlamp, examples of which are in the museum’s collection already.

Plans are in place to mount an exhibition including a scrapbook compiled by Ackner’s staff, which lists the King of Norway and actress Marlene Dietrich among his patients. The Lavery painting was kept at Ackner’s London practice for over 25 years before being put on display at the Royal College of Surgeons and then the BDA.

The BDA is now appealing for donations to acquire the painting and make it a permanent part of its collection. It is has been independently valued at £60,000 and, while funding has already been sourced through the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the BDA itself and private donations, a shortfall of £9,000 remains before the list price is met.

Jason Finch, Head of BDA Museum Services, said: “The opportunity to purchase this unique painting is too good to miss and we are desperately close to our target.

“Not only is the work historically significant in its rarity, it also provides us with an accurate depiction from which the dental profession and public can gain valuable insight into the history of dentistry.

“We are calling on all interested parties to help us keep this important work at the BDA, permanently, in what we believe is its rightful home.”

Born in Belfast, Sir John Lavery was one of the renowned Glasgow Boys, a group of late 19th century painters who created a body of work that was among the most experimental and ambitious to be produced in the UK. Inspired by the French Naturalists, the Glasgow Boys’ symbolist paintings grew praise from across Europe as they explored the effects of realist subject matter and the particular effects of light captured in the natural environment.

Lavery himself found particular fame in 1888 after he was commissioned to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition. He also undertook portraits of Sir Winston Churchill and Michael Collins, and his painting The Gold Turban recently sold at Sotheby’s for £500,000.