Heritage

Audrey Munson: “Miss Manhattan” & American Venus”

Posted by: Roy Wilbur

The following is an excerpt from Allison Meier’s “The Unsung Female Muses of New York’s Public Sculpture” on Hyperallergic, February 15, 2016

No other face appears as frequently in New York City’s statues as that of the tragic Audrey Munson. From Adolph Alexander Weinman’s gilded 1913 “Civic Fame” on the top of the Municipal Building, to his “Day” and “Night” statues that graced the façade of the now-demolished Pennsylvania Station, she modeled for more than 15 of the city’s public sculptures.

Nicknamed “Miss Manhattan” and “American Venus,” her angular face and dynamic poses enamored early 20th-century artists who saw her as the living embodiment of the Greek ideal. Her characters were diverse, whether the hard-eyed visages of “Duty” and “Sacrifice” on the 1913 “Firemen’s Memorial” by Attilio Piccirilli in Riverside Park, or the lunging 1914 “Spirit of Commerce” by Carl A. Heber that seems ready to fly off the granite of the Manhattan Bridge. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she looks contemplative in Daniel Chester French’s 1917–19 marble “Memory.” On the 1915 memorial by Augustus Lukeman to Titanic victims Isidor and Ida Straus on the Upper West Side, she reclines mournfully in bronze.

Each is vividly strong and practically pulsing with life. She even had a scandalous star turn in the 1915 silent film Inspiration, where she appeared nude as a sculptor’s model, the first person to do so in a film released for the public.

Then in 1919 her life was rocked by scandal when a doctor, whose home she was boarding in, murdered his wife so he could marry her. On May 27, 1922, shortly before she was to turn 31, she attempted suicide by ingesting bichloride of mercury solution, and after that failed was institutionalized. She remained in St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane in Ogdensburg, New York, until she died in 1996 at 105. She is buried in an unmarked grave.

Click here to read Ms. Meier’s article in its entirety, which also includes reflections on other female muses:  Doris Doscher, Hettie Anderson, Claudia Deloney,  Donna de Creeft and Charlotte Cushman.

Image: Sculpture based on Audrey Munson by Carl A. Heber on the Manhattan Bridge (photo by Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia)

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