North elevation, Elisabet Ney Museum. Illustration courtesy of Bell, Klein, & Hoffman
Nestled among the trees in the quiet Austin neighborhood
of Hyde Park stands an historic building reminiscent
of a castle. This fortress-like structure was originally
called Formosa, the studio-residence of Elisabet Ney, a
world renowned artist who sculpted the likenesses of
many important nineteenth century figures including
several Texas heroes and Confederate generals. Built in
1892, Ney's Austin studio became a museum-the first
in Texas, it is believed-the year following her death, in
1907. The Ney Museum is the genealogical ancestor of
nearly every art museum and art program in Texas
through its early chapters of the Texas Fine Arts Association,
founded in 1911, whose original purpose was to
support and operate the museum. Elisabet Ney's influence
on the cultural climate of Texas was profound due
to her associations with influential people, including five
governors, and her works' national acclaim at the Chicago
Elisabet Ney was born in Munster, Germany in 1833, the
daughter of a stone mason. She later studied sculpture
under the guidance of the master, Christian Rauch in
Munich. As a portrait sculptor, she became renowned all
over Europe in the 1860-1890 era. Some of her work
includes sculptures of the Chancellor of Bismarck, King
Ludwig, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia. In 1870, however,
she was possibly forced to leave Europe due to political
and personal circumstances. In 1863 Ney married
Dr. Edmund Montgomery after a ten-year courtship. Together
they traveled to the United States and settled in an
"utopian" community in Georgia which was soon disbanded.
In 1872 the couple purchased "Liendo" near
Hempstead, Texas where they took up a plantation lifestyle.
In a day and age when suitable attire meant that
ladies wore dresses that covered their ankles, Elisabet
Ney shocked the little Texas community with her bizarre
style of dress which included bloomers, pants, smocks
and long Grecian gowns. To make matters worse,
the artist, though married, referred to herself as Miss
Ney even though neighbors knew she lived with Dr.
In 1882 Oren Mills Roberts, then a candidate and was
later elected Governor of Texas, visited Liendo, met
Miss Ney, and was impressed with her artistic ability.
Roberts later commissioned a portrait bust of himself
and sponsored Miss Ney, helping her win the commission
to sculpt full length statues of both Stephen F.
Austin and Sam Houston for the Chicago Columbian Exposition
In order to complete this grand project, Ney, in Austin
began the ground breaking for her studio, named Formosa.
The construction and physical evolution of the
building became an agony for the artist with delays in
construction, the general incompetence of the building
crews, and in some instances, poor quality materials. Finally,
in exasperation, the artist went to work on the
commissioned sculptures in the basement of the Capitol
and later moved into the studio before its completion. It
appears that several construction deficiencies were further
complicated by her early move into the limestone
building. The contractors saw as a result of the move that
their obligations were over. Historical documents indicate
her protests regarding construction and that "she
suffered mentally, physically, materially."
POe v MRsVATIOa
Elisabet Ney Museum:
by Elizabeth Vair
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/. Accessed March 28, 2015.