About Elizabeth Siddal

photograph of Lizzie Siddal
Photograph of Elizabeth Siddal.

In 1849, Elizabeth Siddal was working at Mrs. Tozer’s hat shop when she was introduced to the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

One anecdote states she was discovered by Walter Deverell, who painted her as Viola/Cesario in his painting Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night, Walter Deverell. Lizzie appears as Viola on the far left.

Another tale says she was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelites by their friend, poet William Allingham, who may have been courting one of Lizzie’s fellow milliners at Mrs. Tozer’s.

Dr. Jan Marsh, author of Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood and The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal, believes that Lizzie entered the Pre-Raphaelite circle through her own artistic work and interest, by showing her drawings to Deverell’s father, who was Secretary of the Government School of Design in London. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Marsh’s line of thought.

It was the charismatic artist and poet 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.

Regina Cordium (Queen of Hearts), Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti began this work while on his honeymoon with Lizzie Siddal.

Sadly, their marriage was short. The couple suffered a stillborn daughter and Lizzie, in frequent ill-health,became dependent on laudanum. She died in 1862 of 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.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth Siddal, she lived in a time where addiction was a taboo subject and little was known about post-partum depression. She lived within a cycle of illness, addiction, and grief with no useful resources available to her. Although she pursued a creative outlet while most women were denied modes of self expression, Lizzie was never able to move beyond the addiction that eventually claimed her life.

14 thoughts on “About Elizabeth Siddal

  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,

    lisa

    1. 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.

      Regards

  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”
    Regards
    John

  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
    Elena

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

  7. Hello I wonder if anyone can help me. I am looking for some information to back up the story that I have heard that Elizabeth Siddal spent some time in Eastbourne, East Sussex recovering from an illness at some point. I wondered where she stayed and for how long. If anyone has any information on this subject that would be great.

    thank you
    Tina

  8. Hi , im fascinated by this amazing woman . My brother has a popular youtube site about london joolzguides.com i was trying to get him to do some stuff about artists graves … id love to see more of Lizzies work but it so hard to find ? the pictures on this site are small and low res.??? how can i locate her works please .. or is it possible to get in contact with you directly to have chat ? many thanks Lou
    Loupsyche@aol.com

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