Forgotten legacy

The troubled life of Audrey Munson, whose face and figure adorn many New York buildings

Audrey Munson. (Wikimedia)

Audrey Munson’s body is seen all across New York: At Columbus Circle and entrances of the Brooklyn Museum and the Manhattan Bridge, to her 25-foot likeness at top of the Municipal Building. The figure model known as “Miss Manhattan” gained notoriety over the last year and is now the focus of The Curse of Beauty, a new book from James Bone that examines the life of “America’s first supermodel” who doubled as “Hollywood’s first flameout story,” according to Vogue.

Born in 1871, Munson was discovered by a photographer on Fifth Avenue and spent the Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties posing for famous painters and sculptors. She was known for her “Grecian” proportions and lower back dimples and appeared in American cinema’s first nude scene of a non-pornographic nature. “That which is the immodesty of other women,” Munson said, “has been my virtue — my willingness that the world should gaze upon my figure unadorned.”

Tragedy befell the model, who was committed to an asylum by 40 and died in obscurity at age 104. Bone’s book calls on her family members, research and records to pull together her complete history. (By the end of her life, she was vocally anti-Semitic and called herself “Baroness Audrey Meri Munson-Munson.”)

Audrey Munson. (Wikimedia)

Audrey Munson. (Wikimedia)

She mulled over her fall from fame, too. The New York Times in 2007 cited a 1921 article in which Munson once wrote, “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?’”

Read the full story at Vogue.

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