Sir John Lavery

The Opening of the Modern Foreign and Sargent Galleries at the Tate Gallery, 26 June 1926

exhibited 1929

Not on display

Sir John Lavery 1856–1941
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 857 × 1168 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen 1930


The Modern Foreign and Sargent Galleries at the Tate were opened by King George V amid great pomp and ceremony on 26 June 1926. They were financed by Sir Joseph Duveen, director of the Duveen Galleries in New York and son of the celebrated art dealer, J.J. Duveen. Appropriately, the location for the ceremony was one of the Turner Galleries at the Tate, which were presented by Duveen's father. A smaller sketch of the event, recorded from a different viewpoint, is also in the Tate collection (T04906).

Duveen commissioned the Irish-born artist Sir John Lavery to record the event. Lavery had established a reputation as a society portraitist and was experienced in painting royal occasions of this type. As a leading member of the Glasgow Boys, he was commissioned to record the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888, and he also painted the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace in1913.

The picture is extremely formal, but executed in Lavery's fluid, easy style. The rich red of the walls and carpet and the warm palette of the Turner landscapes add colour and vibrancy to a potentially static image. The artist has painstakingly recorded every individual present. King George V and Queen Mary are shown seated on the dais, the queen's white dress balanced in intensity by the woman in red in the right foreground of the picture. Lord D'Abernon, then Chairman of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, stands before them, no doubt delivering his welcome speech. Duveen is shown standing on the extreme left of the picture, his hand resting on the back of his wife's chair; and to balance him, Samuel Courtauld, an important early collector of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, and whose gifts to the Modern Foreign Collection at the Tate were also celebrated at this time, is seated in the near foreground of the picture, to the right of the woman in red. Other dignitaries include Charles Aitken, the Director of the Tate Gallery, and the Scottish writer and art critic D.S. MacColl.

Duveen was closely associated with Lavery from the early 1920s and was responsible for introducing his work to the American public. In 1925 The Duveen Galleries held an exhibition of Lavery portraits, interiors and landscapes which toured America. Later in 1931 Duveen commissioned a large group portrait of a Royal reception at Buckingham Palace.

Further reading:
Kenneth McConkey, Sir John Lavery, Edinburgh 1993, pp.179-80, reproduced p.179.
Kenneth McConkey, Sir John Lavery 1856-1941, exhibition catalogue, the Ulster Museum, Belfast 1984, pp.89-90, reproduced p.90.
Frances Spalding, The Tate - A History, London 1998, pp.49-50, reproduced p.49, in colour.

Frances Fowle
October 2000

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Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘J. Lavery’ b.l. and on back of relining canvas ‘Opening of the Duveen Galleries by the King and Queen, Millbank, by John Lavery’.
Canvas (relined; the original paint continues on to the relining canvas), 33 3/4×46 (86×116·5) plus 1/8× 1/4 (0·5×1) of relining canvas; this includes a strip 1 3/4 (4·5) high at the bottom bearing the names of those shown in the picture.
Presented by Lord Duveen 1930.
Exh: R.A., 1929 (224), as ‘The Royal Opening of the Duveen Galleries, Millbank, 1927’.
Repr: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1929, p.18.

The Modern Foreign and Sargent Galleries were opened by King George V on 26 June 1926; the ceremony was held in the Turner Gallery, No.VI, which had itself been presented by Sir Joseph Duveen, sen., and opened in 1910. The new galleries were built with funds given by his son, Sir Joseph, later Lord Duveen, at whose request Lavery was given special facilities to paint this work.

King George V and Queen Mary are shown seated on the dais; Lord D'Abernon, then Chairman of the Trustees of the Tate Gallery, stands before them. Duveen is shown standing on the extreme left, his hand resting on his wife's chair. Samuel Courtauld, whose important gifts to the Modern Foreign Collection were also celebrated on this occasion, is seated second from the right. Charles Aitken, then Director, stands on the extreme right with his successor J. B. Manson at his side.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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