Bibi Dudensing

Rather than her husband who was rarely photographed, Bibi Dudensing was literally the face of the Valentine Gallery. While Valentine Dudensing managed operations, selected artwork, and negotiated purchases and sales, Bibi sat at the front desk where she greeted visitors and oversaw the galleries, assembled checklists and proofread catalogues. She was responsible for decorating the gallery and selected the notable silver-blue wall color as well as the chrome light fixtures and modern furniture; undoubtedly she was involved in designing the distinct Art Deco-style letterhead. Bibi's letter to the editor of Town & Country magazine in January 1938 offers a rare glimpse of her involvement in the gallery's operations. The gallery's Picasso retrospective held the previous November attracted an overwhelming number of visitors. In an attempt at crowd control, the Dudensings began charging a quarter for admission which the magazine's art critic called a bad precedent. In her letter Bibi explained the tremendous effort involved in organizing such a show and how the couple hoped that the small admission fee would allow serious visitors to enjoy the works "in peace."

Margaret Elizabeth Gross (1898-1971), whose nickname derives from the nineteenth-century French nursery rhyme, "Bibi Lolo," was born in San Francisco. All birth records that predated the city's devastating earthquake of 1906 were lost in the resultant fire that consumed the municipal records building. Conveniently for Bibi this loss of official documentation allowed her to slowly change the year of her birth; by the time of her death she had shaved almost a decade from her age. Bibi was educated in Lausanne and studied painting in Paris before she moved to New York probably in 1917; soon thereafter she met Dudensing. The couple married in 1920 and their daughter Valentine Antonia was born in late 1921.

By all appearances, the Dudensings lived a glamorous life. They socialized with artists and collectors while in New York during the art season (fall through spring) and spent extended summers at their villa in the elegant, seaside resort town of Le Touquet, France, where they enjoyed the company of the artists whose work they showed. Bibi posed frequently resulting in a number of portraits: paintings by Jules Pascin and Robert W. Chanler, drawings by Henri Matisse and Tsuguharu Foujita, photographs by Man Ray and Carl Van Vechten (below); Pablo Picasso and Louis Eilshemius each inscribed a painting of a nude to her. 

Bibi appears in The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue of 1931 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Florine Stettheimer's allegorical commentary on the consumer "temples" of New York City. Under the blaze of signage for Tiffany's, Altman's department store, and Delmonico's restaurant, a bride and groom are surrounded by witnesses -- actually friends of Stettheimer's -- who represent the city's cultural elite. Along with Edward Steichen and Charles Demuth, the three Stettheimer sisters are grouped at the far right of the canvas and Bibi is to the left of them. Fashionably dressed, she has her hands on her daughter's shoulders as the girl restrains the family dog.  

Carl Van Vechten,  Portrait of Bibi Dudensing , April 14, 1937; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, Lot 12735, no. 346   

Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Bibi Dudensing, April 14, 1937; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, Lot 12735, no. 346