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The Dentist

The Dentist

Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941)
Oil on canvas, 1929

This evocative painting is a unique depiction of a dental surgery in 1929. There are no other paintings of dentists at work at this time and very few photographs. 

Painted by one of the leading twentieth century portrait painters Sir John Lavery, the painting depicts Conrad Ackner in his surgery at 47B Welbeck Street.

It is a significant work in terms of art history and to the dental historian as an accurate and exceptional resource for understanding twentieth century dentistry.

The painting depicts Conrad Ackner concentrating on his treatment of Lady Lavery, the artist’s wife. Conrad Ackner was very proud of the painting and used it as a Christmas card for his friends.

As expected the surgery is equipped with the latest equipment. Most prominent is the x-ray machine. Lavery was not afraid to paint the clinical environment and delighted in painting Ackner’s equipment as this showed his commitment to progress and modernity.

The x-ray machine is likely to be the Victor X-ray Corporation’s CDX model, which had been introduced in 1925. Its inclusion also reflects Ackner’s particular interest in radiography. 

A similar machine and headlamp are held in the museum collection. The headlamp is also a prominent piece of equipment.

Dental manufacturing catalogues reveal that these were not commonly used with dentists preferring the handheld mouthlamp. The prominence of these items in the painting shows Lavery’s attention to detail which is of great interest to the dental historian. 

The Dentist was exhibited at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition in 1929 at the Grafton Galleries and then hung in Ackner’s practice along with four other Lavery paintings. 

This British Dental Journal article has further information on the painting, Sir John Lavery and Conrad Ackner.