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About Elizabeth Siddal

Sketch of Elizabeth Siddal drawn by Dante Gabriel RossettiWhile working in a millinery shop, Lizzie was discovered by the artist Walter Deverell who painted her as Viola in his depiction of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Lizzie went on to model for other Pre-Raphaelite artists and is most commonly recognized as Ophelia in the painting by John Everett Millais. It was the charismatic Dante Gabriel Rossetti who not only drew and painted her obsessively, but encouraged Lizzie in her own artwork and poetry. Their relationship was intense and rocky, with an informal engagement that lasted on and off for a decade. Sadly, their marriage was short. The couple suffered a stillborn daughter and Lizzie was seriously addicted to Laudanum. She died in 1862 due to an overdose. The rest of Lizzie’s tale is famous for its macabre nature: in his grief Gabriel buried his only manuscript of his poems with Lizzie. The poems, nestled in her coffin next her famous copper hair, haunted him. Seven years later, he had her coffin exhumed in order to retrieve the poems for publication. The story was spread that Lizzie was still in beautiful, pristine condition and that her flaming hair had continued to grow after death, filling the coffin. This, of course, is a biological impossibility. Cellular growth does not occur after death, but the tale has added to Lizzie’s legend and continues to capture the interest of Pre-Raphaelite and Lizzie Siddal enthusiasts.

The story of Lizzie’s life is punctuated with dramatic episodes — falling ill as a result of modeling as Ophelia, the tales of Gabriel’s dalliances and her grief at the loss of their stillborn daughter. Our modern society is more aware than the Victorians regarding mental health issues. Unfortunately for Elizabeth Siddal, she lived in a time where addiction was a taboo subject and little was known about post-partum depression. Lizzie lived within a cycle of illness, addiction and grief with no resources available to her. Although she did have a creative outlet while most women were denied modes of self expression, Lizzie was never able to move beyond the addiction that claimed her life.

© 2004 Stephanie Pina,


Elizabeth Siddal at easel, drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddal’s paintings and drawings

Elizabeth Siddal’s poems

Letters written by Elizabeth Siddal

10 Thoughts.

  1. Hello!

    I have fallen in love with your website and am interested
    in asking a few questions I’ve been wondering about for awhile!

    Has anyone ever speculated that Rossetti was actually the
    reincarnation of Dante, and that he had a prior past-life relationship with Lizzie?

    Have you ever wondered if you, yourself were among the
    circle of artists/ models and that has ignited your
    passion for this story?

    And does anyone know if the woman in the Waterhouse
    painting, The Soul of the Rose (or My Sweet Rose)
    is Lizzie?? I’ve wondered for so so long, and it
    has followed me though my life for years, everywhere
    i go!

    warmly, and gratefully for your interest in this
    subject and all your inspired work,


    • Hi Lisa Ellen,

      Don’t know if you already have your answer by now, but here mine is nonetheless.

      Waterhouse was 13 when Lizzie died. The painting was finished 46 years after her death. Of course he could always have based his painting on other people’s sketches, but I think it is pretty safe to say that the woman in “the sould of the rose” is not Lizzie Siddal.

      Actually, a quick google search just now tells me that general concesus is the model who posed for the painting was Beatrice Ethel Hackman.


  2. @Lisa
    I often wonder if in a past life I was among the preraphaelite brotherhood models and artrists, and I think that maybe that is why \i am so deeply obsessed with Lizzies story :)

  3. Just finished reading “The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal” by Jan Marsh, very interesting. I liked the poem “At Last” As Jan says in his Preface “it is the study of a biographical history” what people thought at specific widows in time. I’m not sure what to say about Lizzies paintings other than they seem childish. I am very interested in the art and the artist of this period. I’m sure there is a good film re the life of Lizzie Siddal but I’ll rethink that one when I’ve seen the film about Turner! May be something similar to Stephen Poliakoff’s “Shooting Time”

  4. Siento no poder escribirles en inglés, pero no lo hago correctamente. Quisiera comentarles que no es una leyenda el crecimiento del cabello de un cadáver momificado, como cuentan que sucedió cuando abrieron el ataúd de Lizzie. De este lado del mundo (les escribo desde Colombia), e imagino que del ese lado también, hay registrados muchos casos en donde después de muchos años de fallecido alguien, cuando abren el ataúd, al cadáver le han crecido el cabello y las uñas. En mi familia hay varios casos registrados.

    Cordial saludo

  5. Hi,

    Thank you very much for your in-depth research and work-it is very much appreciated.
    I searched for some information regarding the sitter/model of Bridesmaid (1851) by Millais.
    This sitter seems somehow younger then Elizabeth , almost adolescent.

    Thank you

  6. That is the best commentary I have ever heard describing the couple: fairly and trufully. They deserve it. All the best! :)

  7. Pingback: Elizabeth Siddall, 25 July 1829 – 11 February 1862 | The Victorian Librarian

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