CONTINUED FROM BLOG 21ST AUGUST 2016; MEET ‘UDNIE’, PICABIA’S MUSE AND AMERICA’S FIRST SUPER MODEL
THE MUSE “MISS MANHATTAN” DIES IN OBSCURITY IN NEW YORK ASYLUM IN 1996
An Iconic Image of Audrey Munson ,“Civic Fame” atop the New York Municipal Building, 1913
Audrey as Pomona atop the Pulitzer Fountain at 59th Street and 5th Avenue. Her bare backside forced Alice Vanderbilt to relocate her bedroom.
For all her beauty, astonishingly hardly anyone knew who Audrey Munson was.
In the End, committed to an inauspicious grave in New Haven, New York. The Curse of her beauty led the girl once dubbed “Miss Manhattan,” whose regal face still holds court above almost every corner of New York City to die in obscurity, remembered only in the cold stone and bronze.
Her beautiful looks captured the zeitgeist of her day: strong but feminine, pale but with lively rosey skin. For the next near-decade, Audrey posed for a litany of different works of art. Her face was slathered onto canvas, woven into tapestries, and chiseled out of stone.
Munson’s newfound celebrity helped launch her career in the nascent film industry and she starred in four silent films. In the first, Inspiration (1915), the story of a sculptor’s model, she appeared fully nude, the first woman to do so in an American motion picture. The censors were reluctant to ban the film, fearing they would also have to ban Renaissance Art.
From the peaks of fame in the second decade of the 20th century, Munson’s fortunes swiftly tumbled. Having been caught in a love triangle with Dr. Walter Wilkins who fell in love with Munson and murdered his wife, Julia, so he could be available to marry her. Munson attempted suicide by swallowing a solution of bichloride Mercury.
As her health continued to deteriorate, on June 8th 1931, Munson’s 40th birthday, her mother petitioned a judge to commit her to a lunatic asylum. The Oswego County judge ordered Munson be admitted into a psychiatric facility for treatment. She remained in the St Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane in Ogdensburg for 65 years, until her death at the age of 104. For decades, she had no visitors at all, but she was rediscovered in the asylum by a half-niece, Darlene Bradley, in 1984, when Munson was 93.
In an article written by Audrey Munson in Hearst’s Sunday Magazine. In the series of twenty articles that recounted her life story, she asked the reader to imagine her future:
‘What becomes of the artists’ models? I am wondering if many of my readers have not stood before a masterpiece of lovely sculpture or a remarkable painting of a young girl, her very abandonment of draperies accentuating rather than diminishing her modesty and purity, and asked themselves the question, “Where is she now, this model who was so beautiful?”
A story that deserves to be told!
Claire Moore BA(Hons)