Elisabet Ney


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Sculptor. Known primarily for portraits, she combined realism with the neoclassicism of her early training. Internationally successful in Europe before settling in Texas, she portrayed leading citizens of that state and stimulated support for the arts. Ney's unsettled life saw success but also hardship, disappointment, and impediments to sustained artistic growth. Born Franzisca (or Francizca) Bernardina Wilhelmina Elisabeth Ney in the Westphalian town of Münster, she studied for two years at the Munich Academy. In 1854 she was the first woman to receive a diploma in sculpture from that institution. She then worked in Berlin under the leading German neoclassicist Christian Daniel Rauch and at the Berlin academy. Soon the most accomplished woman sculptor in Germany, she worked throughout Europe during the 1860s, fulfilling numerous commissions for likenesses of distinguished Europeans. These included Jacob Grimm (Elisabet Ney Museum, Austin, Texas, 1858), Arthur Schopenhauer (Elisabet Ney Museum, 1859), Giuseppe Garibaldi (Fort Worth Art Museum, 1866; modeled 1865), Otto von Bismarck (Elisabet Ney Museum, 1867), and the eccentric Bavarian monarch Ludwig II (Elisabet Ney Museum, 1868). In 1863 she had wed Edmund Montgomery, a Scottish physician, scientist, and philosopher, but she continued to work under her own name and did not publicly acknowledge the marriage. Early in 1871 the couple sailed for the United States. Failing to find in Thomasville, Georgia, the arcadian life they had envisioned, in 1873 Ney and her husband bought Liendo Plantation, a large cotton-and-cattle ranch near Hempstead, Texas. Consumed by other responsibilities, Ney put her artistic career on hold for nearly twenty years. After attracting the governor's interest with a portrait bust, in 1892 she built a studio in Austin, about a hundred miles to the west. Her workplace served also as a gathering place for discussion of intellectual and aesthetic questions. Trips to Germany in 1895, 1902, and 1903 allowed her to bring to Austin many of the works she had executed twenty-five or more years earlier. Her most visible new commissions included standing figures of Sam Houston (1903, modeled 1892) and Stephen Austin (1903, modeled 1893) for the Texas state capitol. Among few imagined subjects, her last important work, a life-size Lady Macbeth (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1903) notable for its psychological insight, ranks among her finest accomplishments. She died in Austin. Her studio there remains as the Elisabet Ney Museum.

Subjects: Art.

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