Franzisca Bernadina Wilhelmina Elisabeth Ney, one of the first professional sculptors in Texas, was born in Münster, Westphalia, on January 26, 1833, to Johann Adam and Anna Elizabeth (Wernze) Ney, a Catholic stonecarver and his wife. Ney enrolled at the Munich Academy of Art in 1852 and, after her graduation two years later, moved to Berlin, where she studied with Christian Daniel Rauch, one of the foremost sculptors in Europe in the mid-nineteenth century. Under Rauch's tutelage, Ney developed a classical style in the German tradition, with a tendency toward realism and a faithfulness to accurate scale. Through Rauch, she also became acquainted with Berlin's artistic and intellectual elite and sculpted her first works, among them portraits of such luminaries as Jacob Grimm and Alexander von Humboldt. During the late 1850s and 1860s Ney led a peripatetic life, traveling around Europe to complete portraits of intellectual and political leaders. Among her best-known works from this period are portrait busts of Arthur Schopenhauer, Giuseppi Garibaldi, and Otto von Bismarck and a full-length statue of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
On November 7, 1863, in Madeira, Ney married Edmund D. Montgomery, a Scottish physician and scientist. They left Europe in 1871 and settled briefly in Thomasville, Georgia, where their two sons were born. In 1872 Ney moved with her family to Texas and purchased Liendo Plantation in Waller County, where Ney, for much of the next twenty years, managed the plantation while Montgomery busied himself with his scientific work. After visiting Austin at the invitation of Governor Oran M. Roberts in the 1880s, Ney decided to resume her artistic career. She built a studio (now the Elisabet Ney Museum) in the Hyde Park area of Austin in 1892 and began lobbying notable citizens and the state legislature for commissions. During the next fifteen years she completed a number of portrait busts as well as statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, now in the state Capitol, and a memorial to Albert Sidney Johnston, in the State Cemetery. Copies of the Austin and Houston statues are also in the United States Capitol. One of her few ideal pieces, a depiction of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, was also a major project during her Austin years; the marble is now displayed in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art. In addition to her sculpting, Ney took an active role in artistic and civic activities in Austin, where she died on June 29, 1907. Four years later a number of her supporters founded the Texas Fine Arts Association in her honor.