The Dentist by Sir John Lavery is a rare example of an artistic depiction of a dentist at work by an established artist. Irish-born Lavery, known for his society portraits was not afraid to tackle the clinical environment. The resulting painting is a striking and accurate representation of a dental surgery of the late 1920s.
The painting shows Dr Conrad Ackner in his surgery at Welbeck Street, treating a female patient, the artist’s wife, Lady Lavery. Conrad Ackner, PhD, passed his LDS (License in Dental Surgery) in 1912 and registered with the Dental Board of the General Medical Council (GMC) in 1913. The Laverys were among many society and royal patients seen by Dr Ackner, including the author John Galsworthy and the King of Norway. We know his distinguished patient list because Dr Ackner’s staff made a scrapbook of the employees and patients associated with this thriving practice. The scrapbook is still in the possession of Dr Ackner’s family.
The painting attracted much attention at the time and was first shown at the Grafton Galleries soon after its completion in 1929. Dr Ackner commissioned copies of the painting to be sent out as Christmas cards with a calendar attached. This action brought him into trouble with the GMC as it was considered advertising!
The painting is a fascinating evocation and unique representation of a fashionable London practice in the early twentieth century.
Rachel Bairsto, Head of Museum Services, British Dental Association Dental Museum