Elisabet Ney

born Munster, Germany 1833-died Austin, TX 1907
Also known as
  • Elizabeth Ney
  • Franzisca Bernardina Wilhelmina Elisabet Ney
  • Franzisca Bernardina Wilhelmina Elisabeth Ney
Munster, Germany
Austin, Texas, United States
Active in
  • Texas, United States

The first woman to study at the prestigious Munich Academy, Ney began her career in her native Germany. Disillusionment with German politics brought her to a utopian community in Georgia in 1870; when it failed she and her husband settled on a plantation near Austin, Texas. Because of her socialist and feminist views, and her refusal to take her husband's name or to acknowledge their legal relationship, Ney was unpopular wih her Texas neighbors and had difficulty establishing her career in America. Persistence eventually triumphed: she received commissions, was consulted regarding sculpture for the State Capitol, and created monumental figures of Texas heroes for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. What was once her studio in Texas today is the Elisabet Ney Museum.

Elizabeth Chew Women Artists (brochure, Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Luce Artist Biography

Elisabet Ney's dramatic life defied convention and inspired three novels and four one-woman plays. She was born and raised in Germany, where she became the first woman to study at the prestigious Munich Academy. Her most famous subjects included the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the revolutionary who led Italy to a unified state, and "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria. She gave up her career, however, to form a utopian socialist retreat, first in Georgia then in Liendo, Texas, where she and her friends could live "surrounded by the unspoiled beauties of nature, aided by the influence of art and science, [so that] each individual [may] develop, according to his own nature." At first, Ney's Texas neighbors were suspicious of her unconventional European dress, her feminism, and her socialist politics; the children even thought she was a witch. Nevertheless, the locals eventually recognized her talent, and she won many commissions in the state. Her Austin studio, Formosa, became a small salon where the area’s most cultivated people came to discuss art, politics, and "the larger aspects of life" with the artist, who never lost her German accent. Ney died in 1907 and is buried at her plantation in Liendo. Her Austin studio is now the home of the Elisabet Ney Museum. (Cutrer, The Art of the Woman: The Life and Work of Elisabet Ney, 1988)