Lady Macbeth
Elisabet Ney - Lady Macbeth - Detail.jpg
Detail of the statue
ArtistElisabet Ney
Year1905 (1905)
SubjectLady Macbeth
Dimensions187.2 cm × 65.4 cm × 75.0 cm (73.75 in × 25.75 in × 29.5 in)[1]
LocationSmithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., United States

Lady Macbeth is a statue of the Shakespearean character Lady Macbeth by German American sculptor Elisabet Ney. The sculpture is a life-size full-length female figure rendered in marble. Completed in 1905, Lady Macbeth is one of Ney's last works and was regarded by the artist as her masterpiece.[2]: 219  It is housed in Washington, D.C. in the Luce Foundation Center for American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which acquired the piece in 1998.[1]


Ney began sculpting Lady Macbeth in 1903, shortly after she completed the design of her memorial statue of Albert Sidney Johnston.[3] Unlike Ney's other major contemporary works, the statue was not made in response to any commission or for any particular buyer. She developed the piece in her Austin, Texas studio, Formosa (now the Elisabet Ney Museum), where the plaster model is still on display.[4] Ney completed the statue in 1905, two years before her death;[1] it proved to be her last major work.[5][2]: 220 

Design and interpretation

The sculpture interprets the sleepwalking scene in act 5, scene 1 of Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is depicted sleepwalking barefoot in a flowing nightgown, her eyes half closed, with her left arm reaching across her body to clutch her right hand. Her face is uplifted and turned away from her clenched hands; her facial expression is pained, and her body is twisted by the pose of the head and arms.[1]

The piece stands out among Ney's works, most of which were portraits of living persons or historical figures; she produced few other works on fictitious or allegorical subjects.[6]: 29  With its exploration of subjective emotion, this work also represents a shift toward romanticism and away from the neoclassical sculpture more characteristic of Ney's work generally.[2]: 219–220 

Lady Macbeth has been understood both as a portrayal of a fictional character and as a self-portrait;[1] the figure's face resembles the artist's own, and Ney wrote in 1903 that the piece was a result and expression of her own feelings of "cruel disappointment" in life.[6]: 17  The statue's evocation of grief has been interpreted as a reference to a frustrated romance earlier in Ney's life (perhaps with King Ludwig II of Bavaria),[7] to her participation in political intrigues in 1860s Germany,[2]: 212  as well as to her estrangement from her son.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Lady Macbeth". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Cutrer, Emily Fourmy (2016). The Art of the Woman: The Life and Work of Elisabet Ney. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 9781623494247.
  3. ^ Taylor, Bride Neill (1916). Elisabet Ney, Sculptor. Devin-Adair Publishing Company. pp. 108, 118–119. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  4. ^ "Elisabet Ney Museum". City of Austin. April 9, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  5. ^ "Elisabet Ney". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Martinello, Marian L.; Cutrer, Emily; Lowman, Al (1983). Elisabet Ney: Artist, Woman, Texan. University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  7. ^ Eldridge, Elizabeth (Autumn 1928). "Sursum". Virginia Quarterly Review. 4 (4). Retrieved October 2, 2017.