Elisabet Ney


Elisabet Ney : biography

January 26, 1833 – June 29, 1907

Death and legacy

Ney died in Austin on June 29, 1907 and is buried next to Montgomery, who died four years later, at Liendo Plantation.

Upon her death, Montgomery sold the Formosa studio to Ella Dancy Dibrell. As per her wishes, the studio’s contents were bequeathed to the University of Texas at Austin, but were to remain in the building. In 1911, Dibrell and other friends established the Texas Fine Arts Association (now known as Arthouse) in her honor. It is the oldest Texas-wide organization existing for support of the visual arts. Formosa is now the home of the Elisabet Ney Museum. In 1941, the City of Austin took over the ownership and operation.

In 1961, Lake Jackson Primary School in Lake Jackson, Texas was renamed Elisabet Ney Elementary School in her honor.



Ney grew up assisting her stonecutter father in his work. She went on a weeks-long hunger strike when her parents opposed her becoming a sculptor, prompting her parents to request the assistance of their local Catholic church’s Bishop. They finally relented and in 1852, she became the first female sculpture student at the all-male Munich Academy of Art. She received her diploma on July 29, 1854. After graduating she moved to Berlin to study under Christian Daniel Rauch.

Ney opened a studio in Berlin in 1857. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer agreed to sit for a sculpted portrait at the persuasion of Edmund Montgomery. It was hailed as an artistic success and led to other commissions, most notably Jacob Grimm of the Brothers Grimm, Italian military leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, composer Richard Wagner as well as his future wife and daughter of Franz Liszt, Cosima von Bülow, Prussian-German political figure Otto von Bismarck, and King George V of Hanover who in turn commissioned her for a portrait of composer Josef Joachim. Shortly after completing the Bismarck bust, she was commissioned in 1868 by Prussian agents to sculpt a full-length portrait of Ludwig II of Bavaria in Munich. Her works of this period were in a traditional classical German style with an emphasis on realism and accurate scale.

United States

In the early 1880s, Ney, by then a Texas resident, was invited to Austin by Governor Oran M. Roberts, which resulted in resumption of her artistic career. In 1892, she built a studio and named it Formosa in the Hyde Park neighborhood north of Austin and began to seek commissions.

In 1891, Ney was commissioned by the Board of Lady Managers of the Chicago World’s Fair Association, and supplemented with $32,000 by the Texas state legislature, to model Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The marble sculptures of Houston and Austin can now be seen in both the Texas State Capitol in Austin and in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.. She was also commissioned to do a memorial to career military officer and war hero Albert Sidney Johnston which sits at his grave in the Texas State Cemetery. She also sculpted a statue of Lady Macbeth that is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection. She succeeded in having political figure, presidential candidate, and noted attorney William Jennings Bryan sit for a portrait.

The 1903 life-size portrait bust of Dr. David Thomas Iglehart can be found at Symphony Square in Austin, where it is on permanent loan to the Austin Symphony Society.Little, Carol Morris, 1996, p75 Possibly the last known work of Elisabet Ney, that of a tousled haired cherub resting over a grave and known as the 1906 Schnerr Memorial, can be found at Der Stadt Friedhof in Fredericksburg, Texas.{}

In addition to her sculpting activities, Ney was also active in cultural affairs in Austin. Formosa become a center for cultural gatherings and curiosity seekers. Both composer Paderewski and Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova were among her visitors.