Elizabeth Siddal was a central figure in Rossetti's life, from their meeting some time in 1849 to his own death. Under his influence she produced Pre-Raphaelite watercolours and drawings of a remarkable naive intensity.
She worked as a milliner's assistant near Leicester Square in London before being asked by Walter Howell Deverell to model for Viola in his 'Twelfth Night' (1850, Forbes, Magazine Collection, London & New York). She was tall and striking looking, with a pale skin and coppery-red hair, and was asked to sit for other Pre-Raphaelite paintings including William Holman Hunt's 'Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary' (Royal Academy 1850, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) and Millais's 'Ophelia' (Royal Academy 1852, Tate Gallery, London.) She posed for this in winter in a bath of inadequately heated water, and the severe cold she caught is the first we hear of the ill health that would plague her for the rest of her life. After 'Ophelia' she sat exclusively to Rossetti. He fell in love with her and she inspired his most deeply felt drawings and watercolours. She too began to write poetry and to paint, exhibiting at the private Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Russell Place in 1857, and the exhibition of British Art held in America in 1858. Ruskin admired her works, offered to buy all she produced, and paid for her medical treatment and travel.
In the late 1850s she seems to have become estranged from Rossetti, for we read of him pursuing other 'stunners' such as Ruth Herbert, Annie Miller and Fanny Cornforth. In 1860, however, he joined her in Hastings, where she was seriously ill, and married her on the 23rd of May. The marriage, probably contracted out of duty rather than Rossetti's old great love, was not a happy one. Val Prinsep records Lizzie's jealousy of her husband, which caused her to throw his drawings of other women out of their Blackfriars apartment window into the Thames. She was often ill, behaved erratically towards his friends and family, and had a stillborn child in 1861. This behaviour was probably caused by her addiction to laudanum, a pain relieving opiate. She died of an overdose in February 1862, probably suicide.
Rossetti, filled with remorse, buried his poems in her coffin, produced the painting 'Beata Beatrix' as a memorial to her and made repeated attempts to contact her in seances. although Fanny Cornforth became his longterm mistress, and Jane Morris his last great love and inspiration, Lizzie Siddal's memory remained with him; he himself attempted suicide ten years after her death and died twenty years after. Jan Marsh discussed Elizabeth Siddal in Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (1985), an exploration of the lives of the women in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The same writer's monograph on Elizabeth Siddal is to be published in Autumn 1989. — Hilary Morgan and Peter Nahum
Ladies of Shalott: A Victorian Masterpiece and its Contexts. Ed. George P. Landow. Providence: Brown U.: 1979.
Marsh, Jan. Elizabeth Siddal, Pre-Raphaelite Artist 1829-1862. The Ruskin Gallery, 1991.
Marsh, Jan. Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. London: Quartette, 1985.
Morgan, Hilary, and Peter Nahum. Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catalogue number 22.
Pina, Stephanie. Lizziesiddal.com. Viewed 4 January 2014.
Last modified 4 January 2014