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Born on this Day: Pre-Raphaelite Muse Elizabeth Siddal

25th July 2022

Elizabeth Siddal Blog Image

Born on this day in 1829, Elizabeth Siddal was a well known English artist, poet and Pre-Raphaelite model. She remains quite a mysterious Pre-Raphaelite woman, immortalised in many famous paintings, but personally it doesn’t feel like as much is known about her. Perhaps most famously, she modelled for Ophelia, by John Everett Millais, which now sits in the Tate in London.

For Ophelia, she modelled by floating in a bath full of water, whilst Millais painted her throughout the winter. Oil lamps heated the water from below the bath, one time the lamps went out and the water in the winter went icy cold. She didn’t tell Millais and he didn’t notice as he was too consumed in his art. Millais ended up paying for her medical bills after her father threatened legal action after she contracted pneumonia due to it.

You can see lots of her other modelling, particularly for husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He loved painting her so much that she was almost exclusively the only model he used. He also stopped her modelling for his friends within the Brotherhood. It’s reported that the amount of paintings he did of her are within the thousands, that was to the extend  he found her such a muse.

Elizabeth Siddal was the daughter of a Sheffield cutler and shopkeeper who had moved to London with family. She was apparently working in a milliner’s shop when she was discovered by Walter Deverell. Deverell was born in America and was moved back to England with family aged 2 years old. He went to the Royal Academy Schools where he met Rossetti, with whom he shared a studio in 1851. The Pre-Raphaelites had been founded a few years before in 1848, under Rossetti’s influence he showed some incidence of the movement, but retained features of earlier genres too.

Deverell later described Elizabeth Siddal as “magnificently tall, with a lovely figure, and a face of the most delicate and finished modelling … she has grey eyes, and her hair is like dazzling copper, and shimmers with luster.”

Elizabeth Siddal married Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1860 in Hastings. They met in 1849, and he seemed reluctant to marry her for years, perhaps due to her working class upbringing, but either way it’s known his sisters heavily criticised her. Siddal worried he was reluctant to the marriage as he looked for a younger muse. They did eventually marry and they are known to have been even more in love following the marriage. Nicknames are said to have included ”guggums” ”gug” and Rossetti called Lizzie ”Dove.”

Rossetti didn’t just create art inspired by her but poems too. The poem A Last Confession is about his love for her and he describes her eyes, ”as of the sea and sky on a grey day.”

Elizabeth Siddal died young on the 11 February 1862. There’s arguments for how she died, some say she was suffering even on her wedding day two years before as she had to be carried to the church, which could have been tuberculosis or an intestinal disorder, others say she was anorexic and others believe she was an addict for laudanum. It’s not clear and they didn’t have the medicines we have today nor the diagnosis so we will never fully know. It is clear that the many indiscretions Rossetti took in their marriage and coupled with a heartbreaking birth of a stillborn daughter in 1861, both had a huge and profound affect on her and she was known to be severely depressed and had access to laudanum.

Years after she passed, Rossetti published a collection of sonnets, The House of Life, one is called “Without her” and has some beautiful lines, including, “Without her? Tears, ah me! For love’s good grace, and cold forgetfulness of night or day.”

We hope you liked this blog about Elizabeth Siddal, be sure to keep up to date on all our blogs and Pre-Raphaelites on our Instagram.

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