The fleeting fame of a beautiful artists’ model

New York City experienced a major building boom in the early years of the 20th century. The New York Public Library main branch, the Manhattan Municipal Building, and the Customs House at Bowling Green, among other Beaux-Arts jewels, were all built just after the turn of the century.

Audreymunson2And all are decorated with statues based on the face and figure of Audrey Munson, the most sought-after artists’ model at the time.

Audrey came to the city from upstate New York in 1906 with her mother after her parents divorced. She was discovered by a photographer while walking down the street and soon found herself posing for prominent sculptors and achieving the kind of fame not unlike what today’s supermodels experience.

Between 1906 and World War I, Audrey was the inspiration for several public sculptures in Manhattan, among them the woman in the fountain across the street from the Plaza Hotel and the figure on the Isidor Straus Memorial in Straus Mark on 106th Street and Broadway. She also inspired dozens of pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After trying to break in to movies and theater in the late teens, Audrey’s star began falling. Broke and alone, she moved back to her upstate hometown and sold kitchen utensils. In 1922 she tried to commit suicide and was ordered into St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane. 

She lived there until 1996, when she died at the age of 104.


Audrey Munson, inspiration for this statue at Straus Park in Morningside Heights.

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8 Responses to “The fleeting fame of a beautiful artists’ model”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Fascinating stuff. I’ve painted a number of statues found on Beaux-Arts era buildings but had no clue as to the models who posed for them. Thanks for sharing some back story on the city’s history.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks. It’s amazing so many iconic city statues are based on one woman.

  3. focusoninfinity Says:

    Was Audrey kin to the inventor of the Navy’s Munson lungs?

    Do you know how many statues New York has to, “un-real” women? Un-real men statues vs. “real” men statues?

    If a statue is to a woman only under her assumed pen name; would that statue be to an “un-real” woman, real woman, or to both an un-real and real women?

  4. The Titanic love story of Isidor and Ida Straus | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] A monument dedicated three years later featured the biblical inscription, “lovely and pleasant they were in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.” […]

  5. A glorious 1914 tower symbolizes the united city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] tiles, the bas relief panels, and the gilded copper statue, “Civic Fame” (modeled by Audrey Munson), perched at the top of the central […]

  6. A West Side statue for firemen—and their horses | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Sharp-eyed monument lovers will recognize the model for the sculptures; she is Audrey Munson, who modeled for countless city memorials. […]

  7. chas Says:

    Great “back story stuff”…love all the little tid-bits floating around you put together in a cohesive paragraph. Keep the great work coming!

  8. The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] “Civic Fame,” on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building (above)—though Audrey Munson, another top model of the era, is often credited for that 1914 […]

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