Elisabet Ney Museum: Discover Art & Life of Pioneering Female Sculptor

Located in the heart of Central Austin is a beautiful castle surrounded by flowers and native plants. The Elisabet Ney Museum in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Austin showcases the life and work of pioneering female sculptor Elisabet Ney. The limestone studio built in 1892 is on the National Register of Historic Places and admission is free.

Website, 304 East 44th Street, (512) 974-1625, 5 Miles from Downtown Austin

Elisabet Ney Museum Is Former Home & Studio of Pioneering Female Sculptor

Born in Germany in 1833, Elisabet Ney was a pioneering sculptor known not only for her artistic abilities, but for her unconventional lifestyle. Ney was one of the first women to study sculpture at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. Elisabet Ney’s sculptures of major figures of the 1800’s made her one of Germany’s most famous sculptors at the time.  

The daughter of a stone-carver, Ney grew up assisting her father with his work carving gravestones and statuary. But it was completely out of the bounds of society when she announced to her parents that she wanted to study sculpture in Berlin. She became a student of master sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch.

With her talent and the connections of her mentor Rauch, Ney created sculptures of some of Europe’s most important thinkers and leaders of the day, including Otto von Bismarck, Arthur Schopenhauer, and King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Museum Is Home to Many Elisabet Ney Sculptures

Elisabet Ney was married to Edmund Montgomery, who was a scientist and naturalist. Either owing to her husband’s ill health or political reasons related to Franco-Prussian War, Elisabet Ney and her husband left Germany in 1871. At first they settled in Tennessee, but a few years later moved to a plantation in Hempstead, Texas.

In 1890, Elisabet Ney received her first commission in over 20 year. She was almost 60 years old at the time. Originally destined for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Ney’s sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin revitalized her career and stabilized her family’s finances. These Elizabeth Ney sculptures are on display today at the Texas State Capitol and are some of the first works of art commissioned by the state of Texas.

In 1892, Ney built a studio in the Hyde Park suburb of Austin that she called “Formosa.” Named after the Portuguese word for “beautiful,” Formosa was not only an art studio, but a center for cultural gatherings and conversations. 

Elisabet Ney Was Always Known for Her Unconventional Lifestyle

Elisabet Ney was a strong-willed woman who was not afraid to challenge traditional gender roles. Starting with her decision to study sculpture, Ney was a trail blazer in many ways. She regarded marriage as a form of bondage (though she did marry and have two sons), and did not taker her husband’s last name. She often dressed in men’s clothing and rode her horse astride instead of side saddle like most lady’s of the era. 

Elisabet Ney was a big believer in education and culture. She was an early leader in the Texas Women’s Movement, which was a group of women working to get more rights and opportunities. This included the right to vote, equal pay, and access to education and jobs. Ney also supported civil rights and the arts.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Texas women started organizing to get more rights, like the right to vote. They formed groups like the Women’s Club of Austin to bring about social and political change. The Women’s Club gave Ney and other Austin women a place to meet, share ideas, and engage in cultural and civic activities.

Admission Is Free at Elisabet Ney Museum

Ney’s studio Formosa was built of  limestone in the Neo-Classical style to resemble a Greek temple. The museum grounds have a historic prairie landscape restoration, which means it looks like the landscape Ney saw when she bought the property in 1882. 

The museum’s garden is a beautiful and peaceful place with lots of plants and flowers. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Admission to Elisabet Ney Museum is free. 

Ney’s Circle of Female Friends Founded the Elisabet Ney Museum After Her Death

Ney had a wide circle of women friends in Austin who supported and promoted her work. Ney died of a heart attack in 1907 while repairing a break on her plaster statue of “Prometheus Bound.” It was these women friends who purchased her studio and created the Elisabeth Ney Museum. 

The museum’s collection includes a number of Ney’s sculptures, as well as her personal belongings and photographs. One of the highlights of the museum is the marble sculpture “Lady Macbeth,” which is considered one of Ney’s masterpieces. The museum also displays a collection of portraits of notable figures, including philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and President Woodrow Wilson.

In addition to its permanent collection, the Elisabet Ney Museum hosts rotating exhibitions and events, such as artist talks and workshops. The museum is a lovely spot to learn about art, or just to enjoy the beautiful grounds in the middle of Hyde Park in Central Austin.