Audrey Munson  

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Audrey Munson (June 8, 1891February 20, 1996) was an American model and actress, known variously as "Miss Manhattan," "the Exposition Girl," and "American Venus."



Audrey Marie Munson was born in Mexico, New York, near Syracuse, New York. 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 Audrey was 15 years old, she was spotted in the street by photographer Ralph Draper, who in turn introduced her to his friend, sculptor Isador 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 (1915) [PPIE]. 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 movies. In all Munson starred in four silent films. The first of these, Inspiration, the story of a sculptor’s model, featured 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. The films were a box office success. The reviews, however, were very polarized. Only a single print of one film, Purity, has survived.

1919 found Munson back in New York, living with her mother in a boarding house owned by Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins fell in love with her, murdering 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.

By 1920 Munson, unable to find work anywhere, returned with her mother to Mexico and worked for a while selling kitchen utensils door to door. Thereafter Munson began showing signs of possible 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.

Sculpture for which Audrey Munson posed

Herbert Adams

  • Priestess of Culture [PPIE] now in Fine art Museum of SF 1914

Robert Ingersoll Aitken

  • Earth [PPIE, - Court of Universe] 1915
  • PPIE medal 1915
  • Figure on doors of the Greenhut & John W Gates Mausoleums

Karl Bitter

  • Pomona or Abundance, Pulitzer-Plaza Hotel Fountain, NYC 1915
  • The latter finished by Konti after Bitter’s untimely death
  • Venus de Milo (Venus with arms) for Queen Whilhelmina of the Netherlands

Alexander Stirling Calder

  • Star Maiden [PPIE-Court of the Universe] now in Oakland Museum 1915
  • Eastern Hemisphere - Fountain of Energy [PPIE] 1915

Daniel Chester French

  • Melvin Brothers Memorial, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord MA 1908
  • Commerce and Jurisprudence, Federal Building, Cleveland Ohio, 1910
  • Genius of Creation and Eve [PPIE] plaster now at Chesterwood, MA 1915
  • Brooklyn and Manhattan, Brooklyn Museum of Art, NYC
  • Memory, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
  • Mourning Victory, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
  • Spirit of Life - Indiana Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN, 1914 - Newark Art Museum, Newark NJ
  • Evangeline, Longfellow Memorial, Cambridge MA 1912
  • Trask Memorial, Saratoga Springs, NY 1915
  • Wisconsin, figure on top of Capitol dome 1912

Sherry Fry

  • Torch Bearer [PPIE] 1915
  • Muse and Pan [PPIE] 1915
  • Maidenhood Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, Brookgreen Gardens, SC
  • Frick Collection Building. Two pediments, NYC

Albert Jaegers

  • Rain [PPIE] 1915
  • Harvest [PPIE] 1915

Carl [Charles] Heber

  • Figures on tablet outside the Little Theatre
  • Spirit of Commerce, Manhattan Bridge, NYC

Isidore Konti

  • Mother and Child- private collection of Richard & Lydia Kaeyer
  • Three Muses, - Hudson River Museum
  • Three Graces – lobby of the Hotel Astor, NYC
  • Pomona – Konti finished the work after Karl Bitter was killed
  • Figure within the Column of Progress [PPIE] 1915
  • Widowhood
  • Genius of Immortality Hudson River Museum 1911

Evelyn Beatrice Longman

  • Fountain of Ceres [PPIE-Court of Four Seasons] 1915
  • Consecration [PPIE] now in Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford CT 1915

Augustus Lukeman

  • Ida & Isidor Strauss Memorial [Titanic memorial] NYC

Frederick MacMonnies

  • Niche figure, New York Public Library, NYC

Allen Newman

  • Music of the Waters Fountain, Riverside Drive NYC

Attilio Piccirilli

  • Alone [PPIE] 1915
  • Maine Memorial, Central Park, NYC – figure on top and figure at base
  • Duty and Sacrifice - Firemen’s Memorial, NYC 1913

Firio Piccirilli

  • Fountain of Spring [PPIE] 1915

Frederick Ruckstull

  • South Carolina Women’s Monument, Columbia South Carolina 1911

Adolph Alexander Weinman

  • Descending Night – Various museums and [PPIE-Fountain of Setting]
  • Civic Fame, figure on top of the Municipal Building, MMW
  • US dime & half-dollar 1916
  • Day and Night figures from Penn Station MMW, 1906

A G Wenzel

  • Madam Butterfly
  • Figure over the proscenium in the New Amsterdam Theater, NYC 1913

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

  • The Fountain of El Dorado [PPIE] 1915

Others sculptures at PPIE

  • 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


  • Inspiration [1915] the first known movie in which a woman removed all her clothes
  • Purity [1916]
  • Girl O’Dreams [1917]
  • Heedless Moths [1921]

Until 2004 all of her movies were thought to be lost, then a copy of Purity was recovered in an archive in France.


  • 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 Aestetic 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, Research
  • Rozas, Diane & Anita Bourne Gottehrer, American Venus, Balcony Press, Los Angeles, 1999
  • 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

Image sources

The preceding images are all taken from:

  • The Architecture and Landscape Gardening of the Exposition - A Pictorial Survey of the Most Beautiful of the Compositions of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition by Louis Christian Mullgardt
  • The Art of the Exposition - Personal Impressions of the Architecture, Sculpture, Mural Decorations, Color Scheme & Other Aesthetic Aspects of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition by Eugen Neuhau

These books were both published by Paul Elder and Company, San Francisco 1915.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Audrey Munson" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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