Photo of bust of Sam Houston

Photo of Sursum plaster

Elisabet Ney

Born 1833, Munster, Germany; died 1907, Austin, Texas.

This summarizes a presentation by Sharon Boynton to Raphael Club on October 16, 1995.

Elisabet Ney sculpted her own life by daring to be different from what was expected of proper ladies of her time. Before she was thirty years old she was famous in Europe and had sculpted Jacob Grimm, Arthur Schopenhauer, King George V of Hannover, and his court musician, the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. At the king's request, her own life-sized portrait had been painted by Friedrich Kaulbach, the court painter.

She married Edmund Montgomery, a doctor, after a ten-year long-distance courtship while each pursued separate careers in various countries of Europe and only after he agreed to keep their marriage a secret forever. She insisted on being called "Miss Ney," and to the end of their lives they referred to each other as "best friends" and allowed rumors to fly.

After she had sculpted Bismark, Ludwig II, and Garibaldi -- and perhaps been caught up in their political intrigue during the Franco-Prussian war -- Ney and Montgomery left Europe in 1871 and eventually settled in Texas. They had two sons; after the elder boy died, Montgomery retired to his study to write philosophical papers and Ney retired from art to rear their surviving son and run their dilapidated plantation.

Almost twenty years later, when she was fifty-seven, she was persuaded by a former governor of Texas to move to Austin and sculpt figures of Texas heroes for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. She built a studio ("Formosa," an esthetically successful merging of Greek temple and German castle), resumed her career surrounded by the controversies she helped create, established an international reputation, and with a following of devoted friends and supporters made lasting contributions to art and art institutions in Texas. She was relentlessly "different" in ways that made her life more difficult, but she achieved both success as a sculptor and her dream to "know the great persons of the world."

Today Ney's studio is maintained as a museum and exhibits about fifty plaster models and marble sculptures (half her life's work). Among these are three non-commissioned works: Sursum and Prometheus Bound, both done in Europe, and the plaster model of Lady Macbeth, which was completed just before her death and is considered by some to be her self portrait and by all to be her masterpiece. The marble version of Lady Macbeth is in the sculpture gallery of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art; other sculptures are in private collections, public buildings, and museums in Europe and the United States.


Search Alta Vista for current mentions of Elisabet Ney on the World-Wide Web.


Cutrer, Emily. The Art of the Woman. University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

Fortune, Jan and Burton, Jean. Elisabet Ney. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942.

Gillette, Jane Brown. "A Scultor's Epitaph," Historic Preservation, September/October (1995), 48-108.

Goar, Marjorie. Marble Dust. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1984.

Reiter, J.S. The Women. New York: Time-Life Books, 1978.

Rutland, Mrs. J.W. (Willie B.), ed. Sursum! Elisabet Ney in Texas. Austin, Texas: Elisabet Ney Museum, 1977.


Article and Photographs Copyright © 1995 Sharon Boynton.

Published by John Robert Boynton, 1996.

Alta Vista is a free service of Digital Equipment Corporation.