Elizabeth Siddal

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Elizabeth Siddall
Elizabeth Siddall, circa 1860
Born(1829-07-25)25 July 1829
London, England
Died11 February 1862(1862-02-11) (aged 32)
London, England
Occupationartist, poet, artist's model
Spouse(s)Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Parent(s)Charles Crooke Siddall and Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall (née Evans)

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall (25 July 1829 – 11 February 1862), styled and commonly known as Elizabeth Siddal, was an English artist, poet, and artists' model. Siddall was an important and influential artist and poet. Significant collections of her artworks can be found at Wightwick Manor and the Ashmolean. Siddall was painted and drawn extensively by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais (including his notable 1852 painting Ophelia ), and her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Model (art) person who poses for any visual artist as part of the creative process

An art model poses for any visual artist as part of the creative process, providing a visual reference for the human figure in a work of art. However, more than being simply the subject of art, models are often thought of as muses, a source of inspiration without whom the art would not exist. The most common types of art works that use models are figure drawing, figure painting, sculpture and photography, but almost any medium may be used. Art models are often paid professionals with skill and experience but are rarely employed full-time, and artists may also rely on friends and family to pose. Paid art models are usually anonymous and unacknowledged subjects of the work. Models are most frequently employed for art classes or by informal groups of artists that gather to share the expense of a model. Models are also employed privately by professional artists. Although commercial motives dominate over aesthetics in illustration, its artwork commonly employs models. For example, Norman Rockwell used his friends and neighbors as models for both his commercial and fine art work. An individual who is having their own portrait painted or sculpted is usually called a "sitter" rather than a model, since they are paying to have the work done rather than being paid to pose.

Wightwick Manor Grade I listed historic house museum in the United Kingdom

The legacy of a family's passion for Victorian art and design, Wightwick Manor is a Victorian manor house located on Wightwick Bank, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England. Owned by the National Trust since 1937, the Manor and its grounds are open to the public. It is one of only a few surviving examples of a house built and furnished under the influence of the Aesthetic movement and Arts and Crafts movement. The house is in a grand version of the half-timbered vernacular style, of which the most famous original example is Little Moreton Hall a few miles away.

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member "brotherhood". Their principles were shared by other artists, including Ford Madox Brown, Arthur Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman. A later, medievalising strain inspired by Rossetti included Edward Burne-Jones and extended into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.


Early life

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, named after her mother, was born on 25 July 1829, at the family's home at 7 Charles Street, Hatton Garden. Her parents were Charles Crooke Siddall, and Elizabeth Eleanor Evans, from a family of English and Welsh descent. At the time of her birth, her father had a cutlery-making business, but around 1831, her family moved to the borough of Southwark, in south London, a less salubrious area than Hatton Garden. The rest of Siddall's siblings were born in Southwark; Lydia, to whom she was particularly close; Mary, Clara, James and Henry. Although there is no record of Elizabeth Siddall having attended school, she could 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, which served as inspiration to start writing her own poems.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson 19th-century British poet laureate

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson was a British poet. He was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular British poets. In 1829, Tennyson was awarded the Chancellor's Gold Medal at Cambridge for one of his first pieces, "Timbuktu". He published his first solo collection of poems, Poems Chiefly Lyrical in 1830. "Claribel" and "Mariana", which remain some of Tennyson's most celebrated poems, were included in this volume. Although decried by some critics as overly sentimental, his verse soon proved popular and brought Tennyson to the attention of well-known writers of the day, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Tennyson's early poetry, with its medievalism and powerful visual imagery, was a major influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Model for the Pre-Raphaelites

Siddall first met Walter Deverell in 1849, while she was working at a dressmaking and millinery in Cranbourne Alley, London. Whether Siddall had any artistic aspirations is unknown, though she loved poetry. She was employed as a model by Deverell and through him was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelites.

Walter Deverell American artist and Pre-Raphaelite

Walter Howell Deverell (1827–1854) was an English artist, born in the United States of America, who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Though she was later touted for her beauty, Siddall was originally chosen as a model because of her plainness. At the time, Deverell was working on a large oil painting depicting a scene from Twelfth Night , showing Orsino, Feste, and Viola as Cesario. Like the rest of the Pre-Raphaelites, Deverell took his inspiration and forms from life rather than from an idealized or antique figure. He based his Orsino on himself, Feste on his friend Dante Rossetti. This was the first painting for which Siddall sat. [1]

<i>Twelfth Night</i> play by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601–1602 as a Twelfth Night's entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The play centres on the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck. Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino, who in turn is in love with Countess Olivia. Upon meeting Viola, Countess Olivia falls in love with her thinking she is a man.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti English poet, illustrator, painter and translator

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, generally known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a British poet, illustrator, painter and translator, and a member of the Rossetti family. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Rossetti was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

Elizabeth Siddall was the model for Sir John Everett Millais's 1851-52 Ophelia John Everett Millais - Ophelia - Google Art Project.jpg
Elizabeth Siddall was the model for Sir John Everett Millais's 1851-52 Ophelia

While posing for Millais's Ophelia in 1852, Siddall floated in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter putting lamps under the tub to warm the water. On one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Millais, absorbed by his painting, did not notice and Siddall did not complain. After this she became very ill with a severe cold or pneumonia. Her father held Millais responsible and, under the threat of legal action, Millais paid her doctor's bills.

Common cold common viral infection of upper respiratory tract

The common cold, also known simply as a cold, is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects the nose. The throat, sinuses, and larynx may also be affected. Signs and symptoms may appear less than two days after exposure to the virus. These may include coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache, and fever. People usually recover in seven to ten days, but some symptoms may last up to three weeks. Occasionally those with other health problems may develop pneumonia.

Pneumonia Infection of the lungs

Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung affecting primarily the small air sacs known as alveoli. Typically symptoms include some combination of productive or dry cough, chest pain, fever, and trouble breathing. Severity is variable.

Elizabeth Siddall was the primary model and muse for Dante Gabriel Rossetti throughout most of his youth. Rossetti met her in 1849, when she was modelling for Deverell. By 1851, she was sitting for Rossetti and he began to paint her to the exclusion of almost all other models. Rossetti also stopped her from modelling for the other Pre-Raphaelites. The number of paintings and drawings he did of her are said to number in the thousands. [2] Perhaps best known among Rossetti's works from Siddall is Beata Beatrix, which depicts a praying Beatrice (from Dante Alighieri) and was painted in 1863, a year after Siddall's death.

<i>Beata Beatrix</i> painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Tate)

Beata Beatrix is a painting completed in several versions by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The painting depicts Beatrice Portinari from Dante Alighieri's poem La Vita Nuova at the moment of her death. The first version is oil on canvas completed in 1870.

Dante Alighieri Italian poet

Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri, commonly known by his pen name Dante Alighieri or simply as Dante, was an Italian poet during the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy, originally called Comedìa and later christened Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio, is widely considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language.


In 1852, Siddall began to study with Rossetti. She also painted a self-portrait, which differs from the idealised beauty portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1855, art critic John Ruskin began to subsidise her career and paid £150 per year in exchange for all the drawings and paintings she produced. She produced many sketches, drawings, and watercolours as well as one oil painting. Her sketches are laid out in a fashion similar to Pre-Raphaelite compositions illustrating Arthurian legend and other idealized medieval themes, and she exhibited with the Pre-Raphaelites at the summer exhibition at Russell Place in 1857. [3]

During this period Siddall 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. [4] Both Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown supported and admired her work.

An exhibition, entitled "Beyond Ophelia," and curated by Hannah Squire, of 12 artworks created by Siddall and owned by the National Trust were on display at Wightwick Manor during 2018. Only the second solo exhibition of her work (the first was held at the Ruskin Gallery, Sheffield in 1991), the exhibition examines Siddall's career, artistic style, subject matter, and the prejudice she faced as a female artist, whilst also examining the Manders of Wightwick's collection habits: Rosalie and Geoffrey Mander bought her work in the 1960s and gave it to the National Trust.

Elizabeth Siddall, Lovers Listening to Music, 1854. Pen and brown ink over pencil on paper, 23.9 x 29.8 cm. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Elizabeth Siddal - Two Lovers.jpg
Elizabeth Siddall, Lovers Listening to Music, 1854. Pen and brown ink over pencil on paper, 23.9 x 29.8 cm. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Elizabeth Siddall, Lady Clare, 1857. Watercolour on paper, 33.8 x 25.4 cm. Private collection. Elizabeth Siddal - Lady Clare (watercolour).jpg
Elizabeth Siddall, Lady Clare, 1857. Watercolour on paper, 33.8 x 25.4 cm. Private collection.

Marriage to Rossetti and Relationship with Rossetti's Family

Siddall and Rossetti were married on Wednesday, 23 May 1860 at St. Clement's Church in the seaside town of Hastings. There were no family or friends present, just a couple of witnesses whom they had asked in Hastings.

Beginning in 1853 with a watercolour The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice, Siddall sat for many of Rossetti's works. After this work, Rossetti used Siddall in other Dante-related pieces, including Dante's Vision of Rachel and Leah (1855), Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Marriage Feast, Denies him her Salutation (1851), and Beata Beatrix (1864–70), which he painted as a memorial after her death. Perhaps Rossetti's most abundant and personal works were pencil sketches of Siddall at home, which he began in 1852 when she moved into Chatham Place with him.

Elizabeth Siddall in an 1854 self-portrait Siddal-self-portrait.jpg
Elizabeth Siddall in an 1854 self-portrait
Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed Beata Beatrix a year after Siddall's death Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Beata Beatrix, 1864-1870.jpg
Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed Beata Beatrix a year after Siddall's death
An 1852 drawing by Rossetti of Siddall painting Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Elizabeth Siddal Seated at an Easel.jpg
An 1852 drawing by Rossetti of Siddall painting

When the two moved in together, they became increasingly anti-social and absorbed in each other's affections. The lovers coined affectionate nicknames for one another, which included "Guggums" or "Gug" and "Dove" – one of Rossetti's names for Siddall. He also changed the spelling of her name to Siddal, dropping the second 'l'. Siddall was repeatedly idealized in Rossetti's sketches, most of which he entitled simply "Elizabeth Siddal." In these sketches, Siddall was portrayed as a woman of leisure, class, and beauty, often situated in comfortable settings. Rossetti's poem A Last Confession exemplifies his love for Siddall, whom he personifies as the heroine with eyes "as of the sea and sky on a grey day." [5]

Regina Cordium--Rossetti's 1860 marriage portrait of Siddall Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Regina Cordium (1860).jpg
Regina Cordium—Rossetti's 1860 marriage portrait of Siddall

Another famous portrait of Siddall produced by Rossetti towards the end of their marriage was Regina Cordium or The Queen of Hearts (1860). Painted as a marriage portrait, this painting shows a close-up, vibrantly coloured depiction of Siddall. [5]

As Siddall came from a working-class family, Rossetti feared introducing her to his parents. Siddall was the victim of harsh criticism from his sisters. Knowledge that his family would not approve the marriage contributed to Rossetti putting it off. Siddall 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.

Seven years after his wife's death, Rossetti published a collection of sonnets entitled The House of Life; contained within it was the poem, "Without Her." It is a reflection on life once love has departed:

What of her glass without her? The blank grey
There where the pool is blind of the moon's face.
Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.
Her paths without her? Day's appointed sway
Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
Without her? Tears, ah me! For love's good grace,
And cold forgetfulness of night or day.

What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood's counterpart,
Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.

Ill-health and death

Siddall travelled to Paris and Nice for several years for her health. At the time of her wedding, she was so frail and ill that she had to be carried to the church, despite it being a five-minute walk from where she was staying. It was thought that she suffered from tuberculosis, but some historians believe an intestinal disorder was more likely. Others have suggested she might have been anorexic while others attribute her poor health to an addiction to laudanum or a combination of ailments. [6] She became severely depressed and her long illness gave her access to laudanum to which she became addicted. In 1861, Siddall became pregnant, which ended with the birth of a stillborn daughter. The death of her child left Siddall with a post-partum depression. She became pregnant for a second time in late 1861.

Siddall overdosed on laudanum in February of 1862. Rossetti discovered her unconscious and lying in bed after having had dinner with her and his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne. After having taken Siddall home, Rossetti attended his usual teaching job at the Working Men's College. Once Rossetti returned home from teaching, he found Siddall unconscious and was unable to revive her. The first doctor Rossetti called claimed to be unable to save her, upon which Rossetti sent for another three doctors. A stomach pump was used, but to no avail. She died at 7.20 a.m. on 11 February 1862 at their home at 14 Chatham Place, now demolished and covered by Blackfriars Station. 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, since suicide was illegal, immoral, would have brought scandal on the family and bar Siddall from a Christian burial.

In fiction, drama, and song

One of three surviving leaves from the book of poetry buried with Elizabeth Siddall. Praise and prayer: manuscript, before 1862 MS Eng 769. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA Ms eng 769.jpg
One of three surviving leaves from the book of poetry buried with Elizabeth Siddall. Praise and prayer: manuscript, before 1862 MS Eng 769. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Rossetti's relationship with Siddall has been the subject of television dramas, notably Dante's Inferno (1967), by Ken Russell, in which she was played by Judith Paris and Rossetti by Oliver Reed; The Love School (1975) in which she was played by Patricia Quinn; and Desperate Romantics (2009) in which she was played by Amy Manson.

Mollie Hardwick (author of Upstairs, Downstairs ) wrote a mystery novel entitled The Dreaming Damozel in 1990. [8] The plot follows antique dealer Doran Fairweather, who is elated to find a small oil painting she believes to be of Elizabeth Siddall but is shocked when she happens on the body of a girl, floating dead in a pond. The death scene mimics the Millais painting of Ophelia featuring Elizabeth Siddall. Doran' excited by the coincidence and mystery, ignores the advice of her husband who warns her the story of Rossetti and Siddall was plagued by unhappiness. [9]

In Tim Powers' 2012 novel Hide Me Among the Graves , Siddall is a victim of the vampire John Polidori, her husband's uncle and author of what is likely the first vampire story. This becomes an explanation for her illness and death, as well as for her husband's exhumation of her grave, which is not to regain his poems but is part of a strategy to defeat the vampire. [10]

Ghostland is a 2001 album by the Seattle neo-psychedelic band The Goblin Market named after a poem by Christina Rossetti, and the album is inspired by the exhumation of Elizabeth Siddall.

Elizabeth Siddall, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne are the subjects of the short comics story How They Met Themselves , by Neil Gaiman, drawn by Michael Zulli, and published in Vertigo: Winter's Edge #3 (2000). The title makes reference to the Rossetti's 1864 painting. In it, a dying Elizabeth drugged with laudanum revives the last New Year's Day, in which the trio had a train trip to a magic forest owned by Desire, the androgynous sibling of Sandman. [11]

Lizzie Siddal, a play written by Jeremy Green, was performed at the Arcola Theatre, London in 2013. [12]

Ophelia's Muse, a work of art historical fiction by Rita Cameron that was published in September 2015 by Kensington Press, tells the story of Siddall and the Pre-Raphelites.

Sleep, Pale Sister, a Gothic novel set in the Victorian art world by the author Joanne Harris, draws heavily on the character of Siddall and her relationship with Rossetti, and Fiona Mountain's 2002 mystery novel, Pale as the Dead centres a "genealogical mystery" around the fictional descendants of Elizabeth Siddall and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. [13]


  1. Marsh, Jan (1985). The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN   0312637381.
  2. Hawksley 2000 , p. 96.
  3. Marsh, Jan; Gerrish Nunn, Pamela (1997). Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 114.
  4. Gaunt, William (1966). The Pre-Raphaelite Dream. New York: Schocken. p. 64. ISBN   080520119X . Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  5. 1 2 "Regina Cordium (The Queen of Hearts) By Dante Gabriel Rossetti". Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  6. Ash 1995, pp. 4, 7.
  7. Harvard .
  8. "Hardwick, M", British Crime Writers List, NL: XS4 all.
  9. Hardwick, Mollie (1990). The Dreaming Damozel ISBN   0-8161-5323-X
  10. Powers, Tim (2012). Hide Me Amongst the Graves ISBN   0-06-123154-1
  11. Roeberg, Shelly, ed. (2000), "Winter's Edge", Vertigo, 3, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY 10019: DC Comics, Barcode 76194121118300311.
  12. Lizzie Siddal, Arcola theatre.
  13. Mountain 2002.

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Further reading