Selling Men on Modern Art

In the early decades of the twentieth-century, women dominated the modern art market in the U.S. For example, of the group of twenty-three individuals who financially backed the Armory Show of 1913, eighteen were women. Typically those who ventured into collecting modern art had traveled to Europe and spent time studying art or art history in Paris. Because of the dearth of modern art museums in the U.S., these women made it their mission to educate the public about the latest artistic developments. They opened galleries, founded museums and art clubs, organized exhibitions and lectures, hosted salons, served as advisors to collectors, and, as fundraisers, welcomed tour groups to see the art in their homes.

Valentine Dudensing was well aware that women were intrepid collectors of modern art. When he opened the Valentine Gallery in February 1926 the first seven sales he recorded in his ledger were to women. Seizing an opportunity, Dudensing alerted the press that he would begin using his gallery for bi-weekly art appreciation classes for men. "When men come into a gallery unaccompanied by their wives and express themselves freely they often have interesting ideas," Dudensing stated. He planned to help men gain confidence in their taste for modern art by showing them what to look for when judging the quality of a painting.

While no accounts of Dudensing's classes are known to exist, several prominent male collectors have credited Dudensing with selling them their first significant work of art. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. (1913-1993), the grandson of the newspaper magnate, is one of them. Pulitzer was a senior at Harvard in late 1935 when he came in to the Valentine Gallery, was inspired by a painting by Amedeo Modigliani and made his first major art purchase, Elvira Resting at a Table of 1919; the painting first hung in his room on campus. Pulitzer later gave it to the Saint Louis Art Museum. William Paley (1901-1990) first saw Cézanne's work in France in 1933 and was determined to buy an important painting by the artist. It took two years before he found what he wanted and from Dudensing bought L'Estaque, 1879-1883. In 1959, he gave the landscape to the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Stephen Clark was introduced to Henri Matisse's paintings at the Valentine Gallery shortly after the gallery opened. He bought his first Matisse from Dudensing in 1926 and went on to buy twelve major works from the dealer over the years.*

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*For more on Stephen Clark's collection of Matisse paintings, see my post of November 5, 2016, "The Matisse Connection."  

The Washington Post ( March 21, 1926), AF11

The Washington Post (March 21, 1926), AF11