Soon after, Munson became one of New York’s most sought-after nude models, inspiring the greatest sculptors and painters of her time, from Vanderbilt Whitney and
(of Lincoln Memorial fame) to Attilio Piccirilli and A. Stirling Calder. She posed with the dramatic flair and sensitivity of an actress, and artists’ interpretations of Munson began surfacing all over the city. You could find her likeness in the New York Public Library, leaning against a horse; on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building, gilded and presenting a crown with aplomb; and at Columbus Circle, a stern, stone figure serving as the centerpiece for the USS Maine
monument. By 1915, when she was selected as the model for a large series of highly publicized works commissioned for the World’s Fair in San Francisco, Munson was undoubtedly one of America’s most recognizable figures.
Hollywood and Broadway took note and began producing blockbuster silent films and plays in which Munson acted as a version of herself: a bold model whose work was marked by both agency and artistry. With titles like Inspiration (1915), Purity (1916), and The Girl O’ Dreams (1918), they highlighted Munson’s essential role as an active—rather than passive—muse.
These films, with their smattering of nude scenes, were also controversial, and many theaters banned them. Through them, “the fine line of art was examined,” as writer Justin White (whose grandmother and aunt knew Munson) put it in his 2007 essay “Rediscovering Audrey.” Indeed, Munson’s films exposed both the “true skill and instrumental role a model plays in the creation of the human form in art” to a large, national audience. “To pose nude for an artist in privacy was one thing,” White continued, “but to bring it to the masses was a courageous, perhaps even bold, move on her part.”
Munson’s unwillingness to be a silent partner in the artistic process manifested in other media, too. In 1921, she penned a series of 20 articles about her life and work for the popular magazine The New York American, a Hearst publication. Across Queen of the Artists’ Studios, as her articles were collectively titled, she emphasized the collaborative nature of the artistic process and the important role of the model. She also exposed salary discrepancies (between women and men, as well as between female actresses and artist’s models), and alluded to the inherent sexism of the art world in the early 1900s.