Catalogue entry

T04906 King George V, Accompanied by Queen Mary, at the Opening of the Modern Foreign and Sargent Galleries at the Tate Gallery, 26 June 1926 1926

Oil on canvas mounted on board 608 × 507 (23 15/16 × 19 15/16)
Inscribed ‘THE OPENING OF THE DUVEEN GALLERIES | BY THE KING AND QUEEN | AT MILLBANK. | JULY 1926’ and ‘J Lavery’ b.r. and ‘To LADY DUVEEN | WITH MANY COMPLIMENTS | FROM JOHN LAVERY.’ on back of board; the back also carries the artist's printed label with the title, date and picture register number completed in another hand: ‘JOHN LAVERY, | 5, Cromwell Place, South Kensington, London, S.W.7. | Title The State Opening of the Duveen Galleries, | Millbank. | Date Painted July 1926 Exhibition No. 986
Presented by the Executors of the Estate of the Hon. Mrs Dorothy Rose Burns 1987
Prov: Sent by the artist to Sir Joseph Duveen Bt, later 1st Baron Duveen of Millbank (1869–1939), August 1928, probably as a gift for his wife Elsie (d.1963); her daughter the Hon. Mrs Dorothy Rose Burns (d.1985)

T04906 is a preliminary study made on the spot for a larger painting which shows the same event from a different viewpoint and which the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1929 (R.A. Illustrated, 1929, p.18). This was commissioned by Sir Joseph Duveen, presented by him to the Tate in 1930 and is N 04553 in the collection (Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery Catalogues: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 1964, I, pp.375–6). Both works are listed in two of the artist's ‘Picture Registers’ which are now in the Gallery Archive: in the Register covering the years 1926 and after (pictures numbered 976–1259; TGA 7245:319) T04906 is recorded as ‘no.986 The Opening of the New Wing, Tate Gallery, July 1926 The State Opening of the Duveen Galleries, Millbank’. The size is given as 18 × 24 in and it is noted as having been sent ‘To Joseph Duveen Aug:- 1928’. N04553 is no.987 in the same Register. The two paintings are also recorded in less detail in the Register covering pictures numbered 701–1043a (TGA 7245:320). There is no record of T04906 having been exhibited: the ‘Exhibition’ reference on the printed label presumably indicates that Lavery more normally used such labels when sending works for exhibition.

From the early 1920s Lavery was closely associated with the picture dealer and patron of the arts Sir Joseph Duveen; it was this, combined with his reputation as a society portraitist and a painter of rapid and lively oil sketches of groups of people in interiors, which made him the obvious man to commemorate the opening of the ‘Duveen’ Galleries at the Tate.

Duveen had first expressed his willingness to pay for new galleries for the display of modern foreign art in 1910 and he turned this into a promise in 1915. The Trustees accepted his offer in 1916 but because of the disruption caused by the World War building work did not start until 1923. On the death of John Singer Sargent in 1925 Duveen paid for a further gallery which was to be devoted solely to the display of that artist's work. The new galleries - four rooms on the main floor and five on the ground floor - cost about £50,000 to build and gave a total wall length approximately the same as that of the original Tate building. Duveen's gift revolutionized the Tate by enabling it to assume a distinctive national role in the collecting and display of modern foreign art; in this respect alone, it probably ranks, after Henry Tate's original benefaction, as the most significant gift in the Gallery's history so far.

The opening ceremony was performed at noon on Saturday 26 June 1926 in the largest of the nine rooms which Sir Joseph's father, Joseph Joel Duveen, had given in 1910 to house the Turner Bequest. In T 04906 Turner's large ‘Dido and Aeneas’ of 1814 (N 00494) is clearly visible on the wall behind the royal party. Lavery's presence in the room during the proceedings was commented upon by several newspapers. The Evening News of the same day, under the headline ‘Sir John Lavery as Lightning Artist’ noted that:

After the King had declared the new wing open their Majesties inspected the new galleries. Before many of the pictures they paused for several minutes.

Returning to the Turner Gallery ... they were surprised to find Sir John Lavery hard at work painting a picture of the ceremony. Although less than twenty minutes had passed Sir John's picture had already taken definite form, and their Majesties could be recognised standing on the raised platform. For several minutes the King and Queen watched Sir John Lavery at work and both remarked on the astonishing speed with which the picture was being carried out...

The artist explained to an Evening News representative that he had sketched in the salient features of the background in pencil yesterday.

‘For pictures of this kind to be of any value’, he said, ‘they must be done at once; otherwise the atmosphere of the moment is lost’.

The Daily Mail of 28 June reported that ‘Sir John had not omitted even the white carnation which the King wore in his buttonhole, and the gleaming white Chinese silk dress and white crinoline straw hat worn by the Queen made a high note in the composition’.

The King's interest in modern art on this particular day was possibly matched, or even superseded by, his interest in cricket. On his arrival at the Tate, his first question to the welcoming committee was ‘Who won the toss?’ - a reference to the Second Test against Australia which had just begun (News of the World, 27 July 1926), and after the ceremony he proceeded to Lords (P.F. Warner, The Fight for the Ashes in 1926, 1926, p.118. Australia won the toss; England went on to win the series and regain the Ashes after fourteen years).

Although Lavery used T04906 as a general guide to the colours, tones and atmosphere of the setting, when he embarked on N04553 he adopted a quite different format and composition. His viewpoint remained on the same side of the gallery but was much closer to the dais: this enabled him to portray the distinguished guests with some accuracy and, by including a glimpse down the enfilade of new rooms, emphasise more clearly the extent of Sir Joseph Duveen's gift. In the finished canvas the arrangement of Turner's paintings differs slightly from that shown in T04906; this suggests that Lavery might have returned to the gallery at a later date in order to establish the precise composition for N04553.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996