Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862) is perhaps best remembered as the face of John Everett Millais’ ‘Ophelia’. However, she was also the wife, and muse of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was also an artist in her own right, her work very much overshadowed by her husbands’. Lizzie had long red hair, was tall with a pale complexion and heavy lidded eyes. Many were to say that she was not beautiful, but a striking woman.
She was born into a working-class London family, and by 1849 working in a milliner’s (or hat makers) shop when she was discovered by the artist Walter Howell Deverell, who was the first to have her model for his paintings.
Rossetti and Lizzie had an on-off relationship for many years (some would say love-hate) and over time her personality was to change due to her Laudanum dependency and the disappointment in her life, being unmarried and unsure of Rossetti who had well-documented affairs. (She first used Laundanum when she became ill after posing for too long in cold water for the ‘Ophelia’ painting.) Finally, she married him in 1860 and became pregnant with their first child.
Sadly, Lizzie’s baby (daughter) was stillborn due to the affects of Laudanum and this was to send her spiralling further into despair. She was to take her own life in 1862. Rossetti, being distraught, placed his poems in her coffin and painted ‘Beata Beatrix’ in her memory. Though, 7 years later he would retrieve his poems and publish them.
I will leave you to make up your own mind about Rossetti’s behaviour. Lizzie also had her own part to play, and was by no means innocent in many of their problems. They, at best, should be remembered for their work together.
Highly recommended is the book, ‘Lizzie Siddal the Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel’ by Lucinda Hawksley, which is a fascinating read.
‘Ophelia’ by Millais and ‘Beata Beatrix’ by Rossetti can be viewed at the Tate Gallery, London.