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About Elisabet Ney


In 1892, European portrait sculptor Elisabet Ney (1833-1907) purchased land in Austin, established a studio named Formosa, and aimed to sculpt "the greatest of the wild men of Texas."

Elisabet Ney, born in 1833 in middle-class Münster, Westphalia, became the first woman ever admitted to Munich’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts (graduating magna cum laude), later matriculating to similar accolade in sculpture in Berlin. Her German Neo-Classical portraits range from Arthur Schopenhauer to Giuseppe Garibaldi. Her incisive talent in portraiture ensured a busy practice and a rising position in the avant-garde of pre-Imperial Germany.

Deeply intellectual, a gender non-conformist and energetic democracy activist, she emigrated as a political refugee in 1871, eventually landing as a foreigner in East Texas. After struggling to farm and raise her son, at nearly 60 years of age, she decided to re-start her sidelined sculpting career in the state capital, Austin.  Formosa, her rugged, limestone Austin home and studio, (today’s Elisabet Ney Museum) was built in 1892 to accommodate her revived practice. From here, Elisabet created iconic Texas figurative sculptures, while forging the young state’s intellectual underpinnings. Her salons, modeled after those she enjoyed in Berlin but held outdoors, became highly influential, a nexus for intellectual and political engagement in formative Austin. She was a celebrity and a cultural influencer again, exerting a major influence on expansion of the arts, education, and the women’s movement in Texas.  She passed away at Formosa in 1907.

In 1911, her friends coalesced on the site to form the Texas Fine Arts Association and the Elisabet Ney Museum, saving her home and keeping her independent and artistic spirit alive.  Over 100 years later, through robust, evocative programming and engagement, the Elisabet Ney Museum now provides both an anchor and a laboratory for progressive identity and art both at home and abroad. Elisabet’s remarkable life story resonates seamlessly with many of today’s larger narratives, namely women’s rights, civil rights, political emigration and immigration, ageism, the disdain of the different and odd, the marginalization of groups, the fragility of intellectualism, and the reality of a life lived in a sincere pre-Modern pursuit of Enlightenment for all humankind.

Find out more about Elisabet Ney by visiting the bios accompanying our collections online, or visit our Further Research page.

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, a majority of the portraits and personal memorabilia in the Elisabet Ney Museum form the Elisabet Ney Collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin. Any reproduction rights and citations must indicate proper attribution. Please contact the Elisabet Ney Museum for details.