The country’s most successful early 20th century model, Audrey Marie Munson, posed for the Frick pediment, which was sculpted by Sherry Edmundson Fry and carved into stone by Attilio Piccirilli. Said to have a perfect form, Munson was known as American Venus, Miss Manhattan, and the Panama-Pacific Girl. She is the golden woman protecting the Maine monument on Columbus Circle, fertile Pomona at Grand Army Plaza, Beauty at the New York Public Library, Civic Fame topping the Manhattan Municipal Building, and the spirit of commerce on the approach to the Manhattan Bridge. She is both of the “two colossal figures by Daniel Chester French that welcome me at the Brooklyn Museum every day,” says Anne Pasternak, museum director, in James Bone’s biography of Munson, The Curse of Beauty (replicas were placed at Manhattan Bridge in 2017 for a Percent for Art installation that is still in place).
Munson came to a sad end after a failed silent film career (she was the first American actress to appear nude) and a spectacular scandal involving a former lover who had murdered his wife to marry her. Committed to a psychiatric institution at age 40 by her mother, she spent the rest of her life institutionalized until she died in 1996. Contemporary artists and researchers are working to re-examine and publicize Munson’s life and achievements in The Audrey Munson Project.
Munson was not the only star involved in the pediment, which was carved by Attilio Piccirilli of the extraordinary Piccirilli Brothers firm. Sons of a master Italian carver of marble, the Piccirillis had come to New York from Tuscany in 1888, bringing with them an “artistry and passion for stone-carving unrivaled in the United States.” From their studio in the Bronx, they produced many of America’s most celebrated monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial on Washington D.C.‘s Mall. Only the best was good enough for Frick.