From 1926 to 1947 the Valentine Gallery was a center for modern art on East 57th Street in New York. The gallery's founder and director, F. Valentine Dudensing (1892-1967), presented the work of contemporary artists -- both European and American -- to an often skeptical audience. Originally called F. Valentine Dudensing Gallery, the name was shortened to Valentine Gallery in 1927 to avoid confusion with the gallery run by Dudensing's father and brothers; Dudensing Galleries specialized in American art and at that time had recently relocated to 57th Street.  

The Valentine Gallery presented the first solo exhibitions in the U.S. of the work of Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miró, and Piet Mondrian. In addition Dudensing arranged important retrospectives of the work of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Chaïm Soutine, and Maurice Utrillo. In 1939 when Picasso's Guernica toured the U.S., the Valentine Gallery was the first venue for the masterpiece which was installed for nearly four weeks in the gallery's spacious main room at 16 East 57th Street. 

When the Valentine Gallery opened, Pierre Matisse served as Dudensing's agent in Paris where he scouted for artwork for the dealer to sell in New York. Matisse's art world connections helped stock the gallery's inventory with choice paintings from Europe, many by the School of Paris. After Matisse left the partnership at the end of 1930 to open his own New York gallery, Dudensing maintained the gallery's ambitious program. He and his wife, Bibi, traveled to France each summer where they met with artists and dealers to buy art, organize exhibitions, and arrange for the shipment of works to New York. Dudensing's relationships with Paris art dealers Paul Rosenberg and Paul Guillaume, who each supplied the New York dealer with important pieces during the Depression, helped sustain the Valentine Gallery during those difficult years.

Dudensing's success came in part from his familial connections and fortuitous timing. His grandfather, Richard Dudensing, emigrated from Germany and was a successful printer and engraver in New York, while his father, Frank Dudensing, opened the art gallery Richard Dudensing & Son in 1904. Valentine Dudensing joined the gallery as a salesman after he graduated from Dartmouth in the spring of 1913. In the wake of the Armory Show held earlier that year, galleries opened in New York in response to collectors' newfound enthusiasm for modern art.

A number of well-known collectors, many of whom either opened their own museums or donated large portions of their collections to local institutions, patronized the Valentine Gallery, among them: Albert C. Barnes; Lillie P. Bliss; Walter P. Chrysler Jr.; Stephen C. Clark; Chester Dale; Adelaide M. de Groot; Olga Guggenheim; Leonard C. Hanna Jr.; Sadie A. May; Roy Neuberger; Duncan Phillips; Joseph Pulitzer Jr.; James Thrall Soby; and Robert H. Tannahill. As a result, museum collections across the U.S. include works that Dudensing either imported from Europe or selected from the studios of American artists.

Prevented from traveling to Europe during the Second World War, the Dudensings longed to retire and relocate to France. In the spring of 1947 with no notice to the press the Valentine Gallery closed and the couple left New York. They spent the rest of their lives in the French countryside happily tending to their cattle and vineyards. The unfortunate consequence of this sudden and quiet departure is that Dudensing's name has been largely forgotten. Instead the art dealer Curt Valentin, who fled Nazi Germany and opened a gallery in New York in 1938, is often erroneously believed to have been the director of the Valentine Gallery. In light of the fact that Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Director of the Museum of Modern Art, considered that Dudensing "might well be the greatest dealer," it's time he receives the recognition he deserves.


Copyright © 2019 Julia May Boddewyn