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 Elizabeth Franzisca Bernadina Ney  (1833 - 1907)



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Lived/Active: Texas/Georgia / Germany      Known for: sculpture of famous persons

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from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Elizabet Ney was a portrait sculptor who established her reputation in Texas during the latter part of the 19th century, having spent the first half of her life in Germany where she became the first female admitted to the Munich Academy of Art. From the time she was young, she was rebellious, regarding marriage as a state of bondage for women. Although she ultimately married, she refused to take her husband's name, wore pants, black artist's frock, and rode horses "astride" instead of the ladylike English style.  Of being an independent woman, she once remarked: "Women are fools to be bothered with housework. Look at me: I sleep in a hammock which requires no making up. I break an egg and sip it raw. I make lemonade in a glass, and then rinse it, and my housework is done for the day." (Wikipedia)

She was born in Westphalia, Germany (Franzisca Bernadina Wilhelmina Elisabeth Ney) in 1833, and lived there until, at the age of eighteen, she went to Munich to study sculpture.

In 1852, after deciding on a career as a sculptor, Elisabet gained admittance to the Royal Bavarian Academy, Munich, having first taken private lessons with the painter Johann Baptiste Berdelle. The following year, while visiting in Heidelberg, she met a young medical student from Scotland, her future husband Edmund Montgomery. She moved to Berlin where she became a student of Christian Daniel Rauch, a famous sculptor of the day, through whom she became acquainted with several of Berlin's prominent artists, diplomats, writers, scientists, and philosophers, including the scientist Alexander von Humboldt, of whom she fashioned a portrait medallion.

Montgomery and Ney met in Funchal, on the island of Madeira, where they were married in the British consulate. There she established her home-studio Formosa and he practiced medicine. Ney refused to formally adopt his name and, in fact, publically denied that they were married, although they remained together until her death.

She became court sculptor of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1867. That Ney's work was held in high esteem in Germany can be deduced from the list of notable clients who sat for her, including Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig II of Bavaria, Otto von Bismarck, Justus von Liebig and Giuseppe Garibaldi. She served as court sculptor until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Accused of being a Prussian spy, she and others went from Germany to Thomasville, GA to form a utopian colony in 1870. There they purchased 400 acres and Ney ran the farms and attended to business while Montgomery devoted his time to study and writing in the fields of science and philosophy. The farms did not prosper. When the others returned to Germany, there was little reason to stay in Georgia. In 1873 Ney and Montgomery settled and purchased Liendo Plantation near Hempstead in Waller County around Houston, Texas.

For over twenty years after her arrival in the United States, Ney neglected her art in order to raise her sons, but decided to resume her art career in 1890. She moved to Austin where she was active in the art life of the city and executed numerous commissions in her studio-home Formosa in the Hyde Park neighborhood. In 1893, she produced a portrait of Sam Houston for the State Building of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and it distinguished her, at last, as a talented American artist. A marble copy of the Houston statue, as well as one of Stephen Austin, were unveiled in 1903 in the State Capitol. Her statue of Lady Macbeth was completed in 1905. These works and the memorial to General Johnson established Ney's reputation in Texas. She never achieved national fame, but became a local celebrity in addition to gaining state-wide fame for her work.

Ney returned to Europe in 1895, 1902, and 1903 and sometimes visited for short periods at Liendo where Montgomery had remained. He was with her in Austin throughout her month-long illness following a heart attack that led to her death in 1907. She was buried at Liendo.

Her style was a compromise between Neo-Classicism and Naturalism, characterized by strongly individualized facial features and a masterful control over her medium, as can be seen in her memorial to General Albert Sidney Johnson at the State Cemetery in Austin, Texas (1901-03).

Ney is credited with introducing art studies to the University of Texas and Texas schools. After her death, a group of her friends headed by Justice James Wooten McClendon organized the Texas Fine Arts Association in 1911 "to preserve both the memory and art collection of Elisabet Ney, and to develop art in the truest sense in Texas." Many of her works can be seen in the Elizabet Ney Museum, which the Texas Fine Arts Association maintains at Austin.


John and Deborah Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

"Elisabeth Ney", Wikipedia,

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