Elisabet Ney – Sculptor of Texas

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Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

During Spring Break this year, my daughter and I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel with a group from her high school to Italy and Greece. What an amazing experience! Ancient ruins like the Colosseum and the Parthenon, gorgeous cathedrals like St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s basilicas, and artwork from paintings to sculptures to tapestries to mosaics that simply took my breath away. One of my very favorite statues was created by the incomparable Michelangelo. His depiction of Mary holding her son after he was taken down from the cross. It is called “Pieta” which means pity in Italian. Truly stunning.

Greece, of course, is also known for their statuary, and after seeing so many examples of classical art, I started wondering about some of the artists behind the statuary closer to home. As it turns out, one of the most talented sculptors of Texas heroes is a woman.

Elisabeth NeyElisabet Ney was a German-born sculptor who worked in Europe the first half of her life, perfecting her craft and becoming so accomplished, she was commissioned to create busts of such influential world leaders as Otto von Bismarck and King George V of Hanover (pictured with her in the portrait to the left). She was the first female sculptor admitted to the all-male Munich Academy of Art.

A stringent feminist, Elisabet wore trousers and rode astride like her male counterparts. She also despised the marital state, believing it to be a form of bondage for women. However, a young (and exceedingly patient) Scottish medical student named Edward Montgomery eventually wore her down. After 10 years, he finally convinced her to marry him in 1863. That same year, he contracted tuberculosis. After struggling with the disease for many years, Montgomery took a friend’s advice and moved to the United States in 1871, to a resort for consumptives in Georgia. In 1873, after the birth of two sons, the couple moved to Waller County, Texas.

In the 1880’s, Elisabet was invited to Austin by the governor of Texas, and her artistic career gained new life. In 1892 she built a studio in north Austin and began to seek commissions. Right away, she was commissioned by the Board of Lady Managers of the Chicago World’s Fair Association to create marble figures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston to be on display at the World’s Fair. They can now be seen in the Texas State Capitol building.

Stephen F Austin by Elisabet_Ney

Stephen F Austin

Sam Houston by Elisabet Ney

Sam Houston

Upon her death in 1907, her husband sold her studio to  Ella Dibrell, and per his wife’s wishes, bequeathed the contents to the University of Texas at Austin.  Four years later, Dibrell and other investors established the Texas Fine Arts Association in Elisabet’s honor. Today, the studio is the site of the Elisabet Ney Museum.

This passionate, strong-willed woman left her mark on Texas that still exists more than 100 years after her death. What a lasting legacy!

I can barely draw a stick figure, so art like this always leaves me amazed.

What about you?

  • Have you encountered a particular sculpture or painting that touched you in some way?
  • Have you ever wondered about the life of the artist who created it?

 

 

Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

22 Comments

  1. I just wish for an ounce of talent and some kind of skill because then I’d better be able to help provide for my family. I admire Elisabet and your talents as well.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. We all have talents somewhere, and I’m sure you have several. They may not be artistic in nature, but even just the way you show up and leave comments makes a difference. You offer wonderful encouragement. Thank you for sharing that with us!

  2. I always admire what people create since I don’t have a creative bone in my body.

    1. Me, too, Janine! I cross-stitch, but that’s basically just following directions. Writing is creative, of course, but for some reason it doesn’t seem as special as bringing life to a chunk of stone. Maybe it’s because I deal with words every day. Perhaps Elisabet felt the same about her chisel. Just a day’s work. Hard to imagine.

  3. I am fascinated by the story of Elisabet Ney. How cool! Thanks for posting this.

    1. You’re welcome, Kimberly. I love learning new tidbits about strong women in Texas history.

  4. I loved this story, Karen! And what a romance that he kept at it until she finally consented to marry him. Love it!

    1. I know! That Edward must have been a dedicated man. And patient. She apparently was very vocal with her feminist views even after marriage, and she never took his name. Just goes to show that true love can conquer anything. And after all his health issues, he ended up outliving her and making sure her legacy continued. I think he was definitely the unsung hero of this story.

  5. Her named sounded familiar to me. As a native Texan, I have often seen references to her. In fact, each time my husband and I drive Hwy 290 to Brenham to visit my mom, we pass the exit for Liendo Plantation where she once lived with her husband. We just might have to pay a visit to the plantation for a tour sometime. They also have a Civil War re-enactment there around Thanksgiving each year. Texas is just full of wonderful places and people. You. Karen, are a favorite for me.

    1. I love that you are already familiar with Elisabet! What a fascinating woman. I bet a tour of her old home would be glorious! You should start a travel journal about cool things to see and do in Texas, Lois! 🙂

  6. I live in Waller County and when I say her name I was thrilled to remember what little I ha heard of her. I live here Lois and I haven’t been to Liendo. I must go sometime. I always pass by the site where they park their vehicles for the reenactment on my way to church. Great Piece Karen. Thanks.

    1. Right in your own backyard, Connie. How fun! If you find time to visit Elisabet’s home, let me know how it goes. 🙂

  7. What an amazing woman! I enjoy learning about women who followed their passion in the arts and sciences and “cut the trail” for others to follow in their footsteps. What strong convictions they must have harbored. I would love to visit Greece and Italy! What a super trip for you and your daughter to share!

    1. It was fabulous, Kathryn. We made so many memories!

  8. Thank you for this very interesting post. Elisabeth Ney was truly blessed with great talent and shared her talent so many could benefit by seeing her great works.

    1. Thanks, Melanie. I’m glad you found Elisabet’s story as interesting as I did.

  9. Hi Karen, how great that you were able to travel with your daughter. I traveled to Europe with my daughter when she was a teen and it’s among my most cherished memories.

    I loved reading about this amazing woman and I’m so glad Edward wore her down!

    1. Ha! Me, too, Margaret. Gotta love those romance happy endings. 🙂

      Yes, Bethany and I had a marvelous time, and only picked at each other a little toward the end of the trip when sleep was running low. 🙂

  10. I saw these statues in the Capital but had no idea they were done by a woman. There are so few that we hear of who have reached this level of talent. A friend has a bronze statue of a native american young woman in a canoe. It was done by a french artist and left with her father as payment for a bill. He never returned to retrieve it. It is about 4 feet long. I would love to own it, but she isn’t parting with it.

    It is interesting learning how someone developed and used their talent.

    1. I was surprised to learn the sculptor was a woman, too, Patricia. And I can certainly understand your envy of the woman in the canoe – sounds lovely!

  11. This is a great post!
    As for art that attracted me. When I was homeschooling my children we did a study on what the art in Washington DC tells us about our Founding Fathers. The stories behind the artwork there and the artists who created it are amazing.

    1. I can only imagine, Shirley. I’d love to learn about that. I’ve always adored the giant Lincoln statue. But then, I’ve always been a big fan of our 16th president. 🙂

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