in Heedless Moths 1921
|Born||Audrey Marie Munson
June 8, 1891
Rochester, New York, U.S.
|Died||February 20, 1996
Ogdensburg, New York, U.S.
|Resting place||New Haven Cemetery|
|Occupation||Artists' model, actress|
Audrey Marie Munson (June 8, 1891 – February 20, 1996) was an American artist's model and film actress, known variously as "Miss Manhattan," "the Exposition Girl," and "American Venus." She was the model or inspiration for more than fifteen statues in New York City and appeared in four silent films.
Audrey Marie Munson was born in Rochester, New York on June 8, 1891 – not in Mexico, New York as is sometimes reported because her father is from that town and the family did live there. Her parents, Edgar Munson and Katherine "Kittie" Mahaney, divorced when she was young and Audrey and her mother moved to New York City.
In 1906, when Munson was 15 years old, she was spotted in the street by photographer Ralph Draper, who in turn introduced her to his friend, sculptor Isidore Konti. Konti persuaded the young woman to model for him. For the next decade, Munson became the model of choice for a host of sculptors and painters in New York City. By 1915, she was so well established that she was chosen by Alexander Stirling Calder as the model of choice for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) held that year. She posed for three quarters of the sculpture at that event as well as for numerous paintings and murals.
In 1916, probably as a result of her exposure in California at the PPIE, Munson moved to California and entered the nascent film industry, starring in four silent films. The first, Inspiration, the story of a sculptor’s model, was the first time that a woman appeared fully nude on film. The censors were reluctant to ban the film, fearing they would also have to ban Renaissance art. Munson's films were a box office success, while reviews were very polarized. Only a single print of one of Munson's films, Purity, has survived.
Munson returned to New York in 1919 and was living with her mother in a boarding house owned by Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins fell in love with her and murdered his wife, Julia, so he could be available for marriage. Although Munson and her mother had left New York prior to the murder, the police still wished to question them, resulting in a nationwide hunt for them. They were finally questioned in Toronto, Canada, where they testified that they had moved out because Mrs. Wilkins had requested it. This satisfied the police, but the negative publicity generated by the case effectively ended Munson’s career as a model and actress. Wilkins was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the electric chair. He hanged himself in his prison cell before the sentence could be carried out.
Later years and death
By 1920, Munson, unable to find work anywhere, returned with her mother to the town of Mexico, New York and worked for a while selling kitchen utensils door to door. On May 27, 1922, she swallowed a solution of bichloride of mercury in an attempt to take her own life. That was the start of her mental illness and paranoia.
In 1931 a judge ordered the 39-year-old Munson into a psychiatric facility for treatment. She was to remain there for the next 65 years, until her death in 1996 at the age of 104.
- Priestess of Culture (1914) – PPIE, now in Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
- Earth (1915) – PPIE - Court of the Universe
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition medal (1915)
- Figure on doors of the Greenhut & John W. Gates Mausoleums
- Pomona or Abundance (1915) – Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, NYC
- Venus de Milo ("Venus with arms") for Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
- Star Maiden (1915) – PPIE - Court of the Universe, now in the Oakland Museum
- Eastern Hemisphere (1915) – PPIE - Fountain of Energy
- Melvin Brothers Memorial (1908) – Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts
- Commerce and Jurisprudence (1910) – Federal Building, Cleveland Ohio
- Genius of Creation and Eve (1915) – PPIE, plaster now at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
- Brooklyn and Manhattan – Brooklyn Museum of Art, NYC
- Memory – Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
- Mourning Victory – Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
- Spirit of Life (1914) – Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana. Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
- Evangeline, Longfellow Memorial (1912) – Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Trask Memorial (1915) – Saratoga Springs, New York
- Wisconsin (1912) – figure on top of Wisconsin State Capitol dome
- Torch Bearer (1915) – PPIE
- Muse and Pan (1915) – PPIE
- Maidenhood – Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina
- pediment (1913) – Frick Collection Building, NYC
- Rain (1915) – PPIE
- Harvest (1915) – PPIE
- Figures on tablet outside the Little Theatre
- Spirit of Commerce – Manhattan Bridge, NYC
- Mother and Child – private collection of Richard & Lydia Kaeyer
- Three Muses – Hudson River Museum
- Three Graces Y– lobby of the Hotel Astor, NYC
- Pomona – Konti finished the work after Karl Bitter was killed
- Figure within the Column of Progress (1915) – PPIE
- Genius of Immortality (1911) – Hudson River Museum
- Fountain of Ceres (1915) – PPIE - Court of Four Seasons
- Consecration (1915) – PPIE, now in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut
- Niche figure – New York Public Library, NYC
- Music of the Waters Fountain – Riverside Drive, NYC
- Alone (1915) – PPIE
- Maine Memorial, figure on top and figure at base – Central Park, NYC
- Duty and Sacrifice (1913) – Firemen’s Memorial, NYC
- Fountain of Spring (1915) – PPIE
- South Carolina Women’s Monument (1911) – Columbia, South Carolina
- Descending Night – PPIE - Fountain of Setting Sun and various museums
- Civic Fame (1913) – figure on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building
- US Walking Liberty Half Dollar, and possible model for the Mercury dime (both 1916)
- Day and Night (1906) – figures from Pennsylvania Station, NYC
Albert G. Wenzel
- The Fountain of El Dorado (1915) – PPIE
Others sculptures at Panama-Pacific International Exposition
- Fountain of Ceres, Court of Four Seasons
- Fountain of Rising Sun, Court of Universe
- Pedestal & Friezes, Columns of Human Progress
- Air, Court of Universe
- Spirit of Creation, Court of Universe
- Nature, Feast of Sacrifice, Court of Four Seasons
- Pylon Groups, Festival Hall
- Conception, Wonderment, and Contemplation, Palace of the Fine Arts
All of the films Munson appeared in were thought to be lost, but a copy of Purity was recovered from an archive in France in 2004.
- Inspiration (1915) the first known movie in which a woman removed all her clothes
- Purity (1916)
- Girl O'Dreams (1917)
- Heedless Moths (1921)
- Knafo, Saki (December 9, 2007). "The Girl Beneath the Gilding". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-04. "Ms. Munson was eventually taken to the St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane, in nearby Ogdensburg, where she lived from her 40th birthday, on June 8, 1931, until her death in 1996 at age 105 [sic]."
- "Rediscovering Audrey" by Justin D. White, http://www.andreageyer.info/projects/audrey_munson/munson_book/MunsonPages/PDF/JustinWhite.pdf
- Rozas and Bourne-Gottehrer, ‘’American Venus: The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, Model and Muse’’, Balcony Press, Los Angeles, California, 1999 p. 81-82
- "Model Who Attempted Suicide by Poison Will Recover. Her Physician Says. Says Powerful Influences Persecute Her. Silent About a Telegram Believed From Fiance.". New York Times. May 29, 1922. Retrieved 2009-02-04. "Audrey Munson, famed as an artist's model also known as a motion picture actress, who attempted to end her life by swallowing a solution of bichloride of mercury at her home in Mexico, Oswego County, yesterday afternoon, was today..."
- The sculpture was finished by Konti after Bitter’s untimely death.
- The painter Robert Blum and the sculptor Albert Wenzel were partners in a decorating firm (Christopher Gray, "Streetscapes: 88 and 90 Grove Street" The New York Times, 2 August 1998.
- Kvaran & Lockley, Architectural Sculpture of America unpublished manuscript
- Mullgardt, Louis Christian, The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition - A Pictorial Survey of the Most Beautiful of the Compositions of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Paul Elder and Company, San Francisco 1915
- Neuhaus, Eugen, The Art of the Exposition - Personal Impressions of the Architecture, Sculpture, Mural Decorations, Color Scheme & Other Aesthetic Aspects of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Paul Elder and Company, San Francisco 1915
- New York Times, "Rescuing a Heroine From the Clutches of Obscurity", April 14, 1996, Page CY5.
- New York Times, "Famed Artist's Model Bared All For Playwright", June 16, 1996, Page CY15.
- Popik, Barry, "Audrey Munson (New York’s “Civic Fame” and “Miss Manhattan,”" 5 July 2004
- Rozas, Diane & Anita Bourne Gottehrer, American Venus: The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, Model and Muse, Balcony Press, Los Angeles, 1999, ISBN 1-890449-04-0
- Wodehouse, P.G., Bring on the girls!: the improbable story of our life in musical comedy, with pictures to prove it, Herbert Jenkins, London, 1954
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Audrey Munson.|
- Spirit of Life by Daniel Chester French
- Blog devoted to Munson in NYC
- Audrey Munson at the Internet Movie Database
- Audrey Munson at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Audrey Munson Project
- The Big Apple, article
- Image from Heedless Moths (Univ. of Washington Sayre Collection)