Posts Tagged ‘Hettie Anderson Audrey Munson’

The forgotten Gilded Age model who posed for Central Park’s most famous statue

December 13, 2021

If you’ve ever passed the Sherman monument at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street entrance to Central Park, then you’ve seen her likeness before—she’s the Greek goddess Victory, with wings and sandals, leading General Sherman astride his horse to Civil War triumph.

But who was the real-life woman who lent her image to this Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture, which has stood at Grand Army Plaza since 1903?

Researchers, including her own descendants, have pieced together some of her story as a sought-after model in Gilded Age New York, and it holds some surprises.

With Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor of the Sherman monument, in an 1897 sketch by Anders Zorn

She was born Harriette Eugenia Dickerson in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1873. “Research, including findings by her cousin Amir Bey, shows that before the Civil War the government designated Anderson’s family ‘free colored persons’; they owned land and earned wages,” stated the New York Times in August 2021.

“But the brutal enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the South and financial hardship eventually drove Anderson and many of her relatives northward,” the Times continued.

She and her mother moved to New York, probably the 1890s. They settled into a “sepia-colored brick building on Amsterdam Avenue at Ninety-Fourth Street,” wrote Eve M. Kahn in an October 2021 article for The Magazine Antiques. (Below, Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910)

Amsterdam Avenue at 93rd Street in 1910, a block from where Anderson lived in the 1890s

Going by the name Hettie Anderson, she began working as a seamstress “and occasionally as a store clerk, while modeling and likely studying at the then-new Art Students’ League on West Fifty-Seventh Street,” stated Kahn.

Anderson was soon in demand as an artist’s model, and she was lauded for her looks. “The recognized ‘Trilby’ of Gotham is Miss H.E. Anderson,” wrote the New York Commercial in 1896, referring to the artist model in the George du Maurier novel. “She is a charming young woman, whose beauty of form and face make her in constant demand among artists.”

Those artists included Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and John La Farge. “Miss Anderson’s coloring is quite as exquisite as her shapeliness,” the Commercial stated. “She is richly brunette in type, with creamy skin, crisp curling hair, and warm brown eyes.”

Whether the artists who she posed for knew she was African American is unclear. “New York census takers listed her as ‘white,’ wrote Kahn. “But she definitely did not ‘pass’ or ‘cross the line’—that is, she did not hide her ethnicity by cutting off family members.”

After the turn of the century, she continued modeling, and Saint-Gaudens used her likeness on $20 coins and also gave her the portrait bust he used when working on the Sherman monument.

“Anderson’s likeness can be seen in French’s sculptures at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; in cemeteries in northern New Jersey and Concord, Mass.; and in entryways to the St. Louis Art Museum and Boston Public Library,” wrote the Times.

She might also be the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman’s “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 sculpture.

In the 1910s, modeling jobs became harder to come by. French and sculptor Evelyn Beatrice Longman helped her find work as a classroom attendant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote Kahn, and by the 1920s, her health was failing.

Daniel Chester French’s “Spirit of Life,” in Saratoga Springs, based on Anderson

According to [her brother] Charles’s granddaughters, she suffered a breakdown after seeing a lover killed in traffic on Amsterdam Avenue,” stated Kahn. “Every evening, she would inexplicably open and shut a window, shouting the name of a cousin, Sarah ‘Sallie’ Wallace Arnett, a church leader who likely disapproved of modeling careers.”

Like many models then and now, her name was mostly forgotten as the decades went on. She died in 1938, and “her death certificate listed ‘model’ as her profession,” wrote Kahn, adding that she and her mother are buried in her hometown of Columbia.

For any readers interested in learning more about Hettie Anderson, Landmark West! is hosting a Zoom event featuring author and scholar Eve Kahn. The event is on December 15 from 6-7 p.m., and Ephemeral readers can get a complementary ticket by contacting ephemeralnewyork @ gmail or via DM.

[Second image: Wikipedia; third image: NYPL Digital Collection; fourth, fifth, and sixth images: Wikipedia]