Elisabet Ney, Sculptor of Renown

Elisabet Ney

Elisabet Ney

In 1873, perhaps the most unusual and nonconforming couple in early Texas—German sculptor Elisabet Ney and her husband Scotch philosopher and scientist Dr. Edmund Montgomery—bought a former slave plantation outside Hempstead.

“Miss Ney,” as she was called even after her marriage to Dr. Montgomery, had always been beautiful, talented, and self-willed. She shocked her family by going to Munich at the age of nineteen to study art. She soon made a name for herself as a sculptor, but she continued to scorn convention by her open affair with young Montgomery. She undertook many important commissions, even moving into a studio at the royal palace in Munich to execute a full-length state of Ludwig II, the mad king who almost financially ruined Bavaria before he was assassinated.

After Miss Ney and Dr. Montgomery married, it is said that her relations with him and her political activities caused the couple to decide that the United States offered a better environment for them. They lived about two years in a German colony in Georgia before moving to Texas and purchasing Liendo Plantation.

The nineteen years she lived at Liendo, she devoted her life to rearing her two sons and trying to help the neighborhood freedmen, but neither venture was very successful. The blacks ridiculed her, one son died, and the story is told that fear of spreading an epidemic prompted Miss Ney to cremate his body in the family fireplace. The other child separated himself from his mother because of her strict rules and the embarrassment he felt over the community talk generated by her life-style and behavior.

Formosa Studio, Austin

Formosa Studio, Austin

Miss Ney received a commission to execute the statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston for the Texas Exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair. (Both statues stand today in the state capitol in Austin. A copy of Austin is in the U.S. Capitol Hall of Columns and Houston is in the National Statuary Hall.) She moved to Austin, built her studio Formosa, and completed busts of notable Texas politicians and a depiction of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth (the marble is displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.) She also assembled works of European notables—King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Otto von Bismarck, and Jacob Grimm—that she had created as a young artist in Europe.ney_werk_b

Although she lived at Formosa until her death in 1907, she and Dr. Montgomery continued to visit, and she was buried at Liendo among the oak trees they had planted. Sometime after her death, friends organized the Texas Fine Arts Association, purchased her Austin studio, and developed it into a museum of her work. Dr. Montgomery became a leading local citizen in Hempstead, serving as a county commissioner and helping to found Prairie View College (present Prairie View A&M University).

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2 thoughts on “Elisabet Ney, Sculptor of Renown

  1. I was introduced to the Ney museum by some photographers who go there to capture images of the native plants. I’ve always thought it a beautiful place, but, I only knew the barest outlines of Ney’s life. This was fascinating, and makes me think I really should make a trip to Austin,

    I used to go there frequently. I have no idea why I stopped, except that urban areas generally seem less appealing these days. But I’d love to see the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower place, too. Thanks for stirring the interest again.

    Like

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