BDA Museum buys ‘dentist’ picture

The BDA Museum has bought ‘The Dentist’, by renowned portrait artist, Sir John Lavery. Painted in 1929, it features dentist Conrad Ackner in situ treating his patient, the artist’s wife, Lady Lavery. An appeal for help in raising the £60,000 required for the purchase saw donations flood in from individuals and BDA branches as well as a subsidy by national charities.

The work is considered to be 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 BDA Museum.

The painting itself will go on permanent display and is expected to be the highlight of guided tours, and will be featured during events and as part of the museum’s programme for schools.

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.

Head of BDA Museum Services, Jason Finch, said:“The opportunity to purchase this unique painting was too good to miss and we are grateful to all our supporters in helping us bring it to its rightful home, particularly in these financially challenging times. Not only is the work historically significant, it also provides us with an unique insight into the practice of dentistry in the 1920s. The portrait depicts a dentist who used the most up-to-date equipment of his time, and who also pioneered the use of x-rays in dentistry.”

The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history. It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide network.

The annual grants budget, currently £600,000, is provided by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). Each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 250 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of over £3 million to go ahead.

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