Elizabeth Siddal

Elizabeth Siddal

Infobox Person
name = Elizabeth Siddal

caption = Elizabeth Siddal, in an 1854 self portrait
birth_date = birth date|1829|7|25|df=y
birth_place = London, England, United Kingdom
death_date = death date and age|1862|2|11|1829|7|25|df=y
death_place = London, England, United Kingdom
occupation = artist, artist's model
parents = Charles Crooke Siddall and Elizabeth Eleanor Evans Siddall
spouse = Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (25 July 182911 February 1862) was a British artists' model, poet and artist who was painted and drawn extensively by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Siddal was perhaps the most important model to sit for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Their ideas about feminine beauty were profoundly influenced by her, or rather she personified those ideals. She was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's model par excellence; almost all of his early paintings of women are portraits of her. She was also painted by Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, and was the model for Millais' well known "Ophelia" (1852).

Early life

Named Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, after her mother, Lizzie was born on 25 July, 1829, at the family’s home at 7 Charles Street, Hatton Garden. She was born to Charles Siddall and Eleanor Evans, a family of English and Welsh descent. At the time of Lizzie’s birth, her parents were not poverty stricken. Her father had his own cutlery-making business. Around 1831, the Siddall family moved to the borough of Southwark, in south London, a less salubrious area than Hatton Garden. It was in Southwark that the rest of Lizzie’s siblings were born: Lydia, to whom Lizzie was particularly close, Mary, Clara, James and Henry. Although there is no record of her having attended school, Lizzie was able to read and write, presumably having been taught by her parents. She developed a love of poetry at a young age, after discovering a poem by Tennyson on a scrap of newspaper that had been used to wrap a pat of butter. This discovery was one of Lizzie’s inspirations to start writing her own poetry.

Model for the Pre-Raphaelites

Siddal, whose name was originally spelt 'Siddall' (it was Rossetti who dropped the second 'l') was first noticed by Deverell in 1849, while she was working as a milliner in Cranbourne Alley, London. She was the daughter of Charles Crooke Siddall, a cutler who claimed that his family descended from nobility, and his wife Elizabeth Eleanor Evans Siddall. Neither she nor her family had any artistic aspirations or interests. She was employed as a model by Deverell and through him was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelites. The twenty-year-old with her tall thin frame and copper hair was the first of the Pre-Raphaelite stunners. William Michael Rossetti, her brother-in-law, described her as "a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair." [Ash (1995), p. 4]

Lizzie’s introduction to modeling was an extremely pleasant entrance into what could be a sleazy world. At the start of her modeling career, Lizzie was in the enviable position of being allowed to remain working at Mrs. Tozer’s part time, thereby ensuring herself a regular salary even if modeling did not work out. This was an unusual opportunity for a woman of her time.

While posing for Millais' "Ophelia" (1852), Siddal had floated in a bathtub full of water to model the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter with Siddal modeling. He put lamps under the tub to warm the water. On one occasion the lamps went out and the water slowly became icy cold. Millais was absorbed by his painting and did not notice. Siddal did not complain. After this session she became very sick with a severe cold or pneumonia. Her father held Millais responsible, and forced him to pay compensation for her doctor's bills. It was long thought that she suffered from tuberculosis, but some historians now believe that an intestinal disorder was more likely. Some have suggested that she might have been an anorexic, while others attribute her poor health to an addiction to laudanum or to a combination of ailments. [ Ash (1995), pp. 4, 7]

Elizabeth Siddal was the primary muse for Dante Gabriel Rossetti throughout most of his youth. After he met her he began to paint her to the exclusion of almost all other models and stopped her from modelling for the other Pre-Raphaelites. These drawings and paintings culminated in "Beata Beatrix", painted in 1863, one year after Elizabeth's death. She was used as a model for this painting, which shows a praying Beatrice (from Dante Alighieri).

Life with Rossetti

began to subsidize her career. Ruskin paid £150 per year in exchange for all drawings and paintings that she produced. Siddal produced many sketches but only a single painting. Her sketches are laid out in a fashion similar to Pre-Rapaelite compositions and tend to illustrate Arthurian legend and other idealized Medieval themes. Ruskin also admonished Rossetti in his letters for not marrying Siddal and giving her the security she needed. During this period Siddal also began to write poetry, often with dark themes about lost love or the impossibility of true love. "Her verses were as simple and moving as ancient ballads; her drawings were as genuine in their medieval spirit as much more highly finished and competent works of Pre-Raphaelite art," wrote critic William Gaunt in "The Pre-Raphaelite Dream". As Siddal came from a lower class family, Rossetti feared introducing her to his parents. "Lizzy" was also the victim of harsh criticism from Rossetti's sisters. The knowledge that the family would not approve the wedding contributed to Rossetti putting it off. Siddal also appears to have believed, with some justification, that Rossetti was always seeking to replace her with a younger muse, which contributed to her later depressive periods and illness.

Ill-health and death

shortly after becoming pregnant for a second time. Rossetti discovered her unconscious and dying in bed. Although her death was ruled accidental by the coroner, there are suggestions that Rossetti found a suicide note. Consumed with grief and guilt Rossetti went to see Ford Madox Brown who is supposed to have instructed him to burn the note – under the law at the time suicide was both illegal and immoral and would have brought a scandal on the family as well as barred Siddal from a Christian burial.

Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in Elizabeth's coffin a small journal containing the only copies he had of his many poems. He slid the book into Elizabeth's flowing red hair. She was then interred at Highgate Cemetery in London. In 1869, Rossetti was chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol. He convinced himself that he was going blind and couldn't paint. He began to write poetry again. Before publishing his newer poems he became obsessed with retrieving the poems he had slipped into Elizabeth's hair. Rossetti and his agent, the notorious Charles Augustus Howell, applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed to retrieve the manuscript. This was done in the dead of night so as to avoid public curiosity and attention, and Rossetti was not present. Howell reported to Rossetti that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her delicate beauty intact. Her hair was said to have continued to grow after death so that the coffin was filled with her coppery hair. The manuscript was retrieved although a worm had burrowed through the book so that some of the poems were difficult to read. Rossetti published the old poems with his newer ones; they were not well received by some critics because of their eroticism, and he was haunted by the exhumation through the rest of his life.

Rossetti's relationship with Siddal is also explored by Christina Rossetti in her poem "In an Artist's Studio".


:Oh grieve not with thy bitter tears::The life that passes fast;:The gates of heaven will open wide::And take me in at last.

:Then sit down meekly at my side::And watch my young life flee;:Then solemn peace of holy death::Come quickly unto thee.

:But true love, seek me in the throng::Of spirits floating past,:And I will take thee by the hands::And know thee mine at last.

::::-- From "Early Death"

In fiction

Fiona Mountain's 2002 mystery novel "Pale as the Dead" centers a "genealogical mystery" around the descendants of Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In the novel, the couple's sickly newborn daughter is not stillborn but is stolen by their family doctor, who was in love with Elizabeth. Elizabeth's mysterious ailments are explained as a genetic heart defect that has been inherited by her great-great granddaughter Bethany, a young woman who is modeling for photographs inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. [Mountain (2002)]

Mollie Hardwick (author of "Upstairs, Downstairs") wrote a mystery novel entitled "The Dreaming Damozel" in 1990 [ [http://www.xs4all.nl/~embden11/Engels2/hardwickm.htm British Crime Writers List] ] . The plot follows antique dealer Doran Fairweather, who is elated to find a small oil painting she believes to be of Elizabeth Siddal. But she is shocked when she happens upon the body of a young girl, floating dead in a pond. The death scene mimics the Millais painting of Ophelia featuring Elizabeth Siddal. Doran is so excited by the coincidence and mystery that she ignores the advice of her husband, Rodney, who warns her that the story of Rossetti and Siddal was plagued by unhappiness. He feels that any involvement in this mystery will lead to trouble and danger. But Doran is quickly becoming obsessed with the Rossetti/Siddal saga and is making some interesting new friends. She fails to see the trap that is ready to snare her. [Hardwick, Mollie (1990). "The Dreaming Damozel" ISBN 081615323X]



*Ash, Russell (1995). "Dante Gabriel Rossetti". Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-3784-0
*Cherry, Deborah (1993). "Painting Women: Victorian Women Artists". London: Routledge. ISBN 0-4150-6053-2.
*Daly, Gay (1989). "Pre-Raphaelites in Love", New York: Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0-89919-450-8.
*Gaunt, William (1966). "Pre-Raphaelite Dream", Schocken Books, ASIN B000OJUC5K
*Lewis, Roger C. & Lasner, Mark Samuels (Eds.) (1978). "Poems and Drawings of Elizabeth Siddal", Wolfville, Nova Scotia: The Wombat Press. ISBN 0-9690828-0-0.
*Marsh, Jan (1992). "The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal", London: Quartet. ISBN 0-7043-0170-9.
*Mountain, Fiona (2002). "Pale as the Dead". Signet. ISBN 0-451-21617-2
*Prose, Francine (2003). "Elizabeth Siddal" in "The Lives of the Muses", pp99-136, London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-85410-944-8.
*Hawksley, Lucinda (2004). "Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel", London: André Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-00050-X.

Further reading

*Surtees, Virginia (1991). "Rossetti's Portraits of Elizabeth Siddal", Aldershot: Scolar Press. ISBN 0-85967-885-7.
*Morissey, Kim (1998). "Clever as Paint: The Rossettis in Love (playscript)", Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press. ISBN 0-88754-552-1.
*Hawksley, Lucinda (2004). "Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel", Andre Deutsch ISBN 0-233-00117-4

External links

* [http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poet/401.html Selected Poetry of Elizabeth Siddal]
* [http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/exhibitions/rossetti/works/siddal.asp Portraits of Elizabeth Siddal] from major Rossetti exhibition
* [http://www.lizziesiddal.com LizzieSiddal.com] site devoted to the study and discussion of Elizabeth Siddal's life, work, and marriage to Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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