Elizabeth Siddal (July 25, 1829 – February 11, 1862)

Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Dim phantoms of an unknown ill
Float through my tired brain;
The unformed visions of my life
Pass by in ghostly train;
— taken from Elizabeth Siddal’s poem A Year and A Day

There is no hope of my knowing what ‘unformed visions’ of Lizzie’s life could have possibly passed by in ‘ghostly train’ before her. While I may not ever be able to fill in the gaps, I’ve not yet reached a point where I have lost interest in pursuing Elizabeth Siddal and chronicling information about her here at LizzieSiddal.com.

This site is my journey.

I started this journey alone, but over the past fourteen years of this online project,  I have discovered fellow travelers. While I dedicate my time to these pages, this is not solely my site. It is here for all of us who have been captivated by Elizabeth Siddal, those of us compelled to search, to read, to follow paths in the hopes that we  will somehow help us to understand her. We are what I like to call ‘Elizabeth Siddal enthusiasts’. You’re probably one too.

But in case you’re not (yet):

Elizabeth Who? Elizabeth Siddal started out as an artist’s model who posed for members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In time, she broadened her horizons and became a painter and poet in her own right. She is widely recognized from the painting Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais; the story of her posing as Ophelia is as famous as the work itself. Eventually, she would pose only for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who encouraged her pursuit of art. He became her mentor and art tutor, he drew her obsessively, and he loved her.

In many accounts of her, you will see her death described as suicide. I am of the belief that her dosage that night was unintentional, a tragic end similar to that of many addicts. I will never attempt to sway you, though. Whether intentional or not, she sadly lost her life due to a fatal overdose of Laudanum. You can read a transcript of the inquest here.

Shortly after her death, her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti enclosed his manuscript of poetry in her coffin.

He had her exhumed seven years later in order to publish them.

Drawing of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The hills grow darker to my sight
And thoughts begin to swim. (from her poem, At Last)

Lizzie was discovered in millinery shop, a simple girl who was tall for the time and had a mass of red-gold hair. Her first sitting was for Walter Deverell’s Twelfth Night. 

Twelfth Night
Lizzie is on the far left as Viola from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Interestingly, her future husband modeled as the jester seen sitting on the right. The pair had probably not met yet.

Lizzie then began to pose for other Pre-Raphaelite artists, such as Sir John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. It is Millais’ depiction of her as Ophelia that adds to her legend.  Posing in a bath warmed with oil lamps underneath, the lamps burned out over the course of the long session.  Lizzie grew ill from laying in the freezing water for hours as a cold, silent Ophelia.  Her father threatened to sue Millais.

Ophelia, Sir John Everett Millais

I started LizzieSiddal.com fourteen years ago, having spent at least a decade prior studying her.  Almost my entire adult life has been in pursuit of this elusive woman.

Like most people, I first discovered her through the tale of her exhumation and my reaction was a mixture of outrage and fascination.

When I read this fragment of one of her poems, my curiosity became something else entirely. Something deeper.

Dim phantoms of an unknown ill
Float through my tired brain;
The unformed visions of my life
Pass by in ghostly train;
    — taken from Elizabeth Siddal’s poemA Year and A Day

The imagery of dim phantoms, the idea of this woman’s struggle and her ‘tired brain’ reached across a century and gripped my heart.  I don’t know if I had ever felt such compassion before for someone so long dead.

All these years of compiling information about her life and I am just now realizing that she has become, to use her words, my own dim phantom.

Describing the writing of her book Possession, A.S. Byatt said “I had been thinking about such a novel for at least 15 years, and it had changed a great deal in my head during that time. Unlike anything else I have written, it began with the title. I was sitting in the old round reading room in the British Museum, watching the great Coleridge scholar Kathleen Coburn pacing round and round the circular catalogue, and I realised that she had dedicated all her life to this dead man. And then I thought “Does he possess her, or does she possess him?” And then I thought there could be a novel, “Possession”, about the relations between the living and the dead. It would be a kind of daemonic tale of haunting.” (via the Guardian,here)

My pursuit of Lizzie Siddal happily and unequivocally possesses me. That, in turn, led me down an endless rabbit-hole of all Pre-Raphaelite art and artists.  For that, I am grateful.

I am thrilled and honored that LizzieSiddal.com received a brief mention in the preface to the second edition of Jan Marsh’s The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal.

Listen to or Download The Sexton’s Tales episode, The Exhumation of Ophelia.  Brilliant dramatization.  MP3 format.  This download is free.


  • Henry May

    There was a very nice oil painting of Lizzie which came up for sale at christies in London many years ago which I would have liked to have purchased.
    I never had the money but reconized how important it was so told the Tate that they would be wise to try and buy it.
    I am sorry to say they decined and it went for about £14,000 if I remember right.
    A few months later I was chatting to a person whos husband was the director of the Wilmington art Gallery in the U.S.A about this painting, she said yes I know of this painting of Lizze we purchased it and were very happy to aquire it.

  • Mr Chris Cox

    I first encountered the Pre Raphaelites through watching Desperate Romantics and by buying the book. Lizzie Siddal certainly has had some influence on contempory art. I read that the 60’s Hippy movement was believed to be inspired by her and the PRB. At present I am half way through reading Lucinda Hawkesley’s book about her.
    I will continue to log onto your website.

  • lisa ellen

    I recently came across a newspaper clipping from 2005 about
    a painting discovered in Red House of William and Jane Morris.
    Does anyone know where there is an image of it? Thanks!!

  • Steve Green

    I read with interest Lisa Ellen’s note about a painting of William & Janey discovered in Red House. I’ve visited Red House several times over the past few years and very recently become a volunteer. There are images to be found of them around the house but I have the sense that the painting that is being referred to is the one that was discovered hidden in a wardrobe. This was reputedly painted by Elizabeth Siddal and is unfortunately in need of restoration so I doubt whether there is a satisfactory image available.
    I seem to remember being told that on one of her visits to Red House she wrote a letter to Rossetti asking for his advice on a painting she was working on at the house. I am there this Sunday and I will of course make enquiries for Ms Ellen and post a comment next week.


    • Stephanie Pina

      Thank you! A friend of mine posted an article about the wardrobe on my facebook page about a year ago. It spurred an interesting conversation in our facebook comments and I just spent roughly an hour trying to find it, but wading through old FB posts is not as easy as I thought it would be.
      Lisa Ellen, I apologize that I didn’t answer your comment in a timely fashion! My schedule over the summer has been complete chaos, but things are finally returning to normal!


  • Steve Green

    Lisa Ellen & Stephanie

    No joy I’m afraid, unfortunately I was unable to establish such a picture at Red house. I mentioned the subject to the house manager and two to the tour guides, but none were able to confirm a discovery of a painting as was suggested in the newspaper clipping.

    If you are interested in Red House (Burne-Jones described it as the ‘most beautifullest place on earth’ – I’m not sure about the grammar?) there are some nice photos that have been recently posted on the National Trust photo library web site: http://www.ntpl.org.uk

    I didn’t see an image of the wardrobe picture on the site but if you would like me to take a photo next time I’m at Red house, please let me know.

    Warmest Regards


  • jon

    for years in my family theres been talk of a connection with lizzie
    my mothers maiden name was Siddall they are from Earl Masrshall rd in sheffield the girls in the family all look a litle like lizzie
    is there any connection

  • Erin Whitcroft


    I am new to these pages and to the life of Siddal. If I was to buy one book on Siddal (to start with!) which biography would people suggest as the best?



    • Stephanie Pina

      A good book to start with would be Lucinda Hawksley’s biography of Elizabeth Siddal. It’s excellent.
      After that, Jan Marsh’s The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal is a good book to have. It’s not a straightforward biography about Lizzie, but a look at how Elizabeth Siddal has been written about by different generations of art historians and authors.
      Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood (also by Jan Marsh) is also a wonderful book to have and it is my favorite Pre-Raphaelite biography. It’s not just about Elizabeth Siddal, but all the women involved with the Pre-Raphaelite circle.

  • kate

    Hello. Would you know whether there is a book of poems written by Elizabeth Siddal available to purchase? Also, are any of her own works of art available to view at any art galleries or museums in the U.K.?

    Thanking you in anticipation.

  • mark


    recently I bought a book – by M. Atwood – “alias Grace”. The content and plot very excellent – but my attraction always returned back to the book cover. I said to myself – I must and will have once a “re-print” of this picture. Today I found “on chance” – while visiting wikipedia her name “Elizabeth Siddal. I was actually engaged doing research about chaos-theory. But I´m glad, I found her name.



  • Steve Green

    The readers of this site may be interested to know that this year, on the 150th anniversary of her death, Red House is planning a partial restoration of the Elizabeth Siddal wall painting.


  • lisa ellen

    Hi Stephanie and Steve,

    Thanks for looking into the mystery painting at Redhouse. I have not come back to this site for a while but was grateful for your interest in the question. I’ll dig up that article and see if there are any more specifics.

    I recently watched Desperate Romantics and was sort of surprised by the liberties taken with the story historically. I’ve noticed that some of the people writing about Lizzy Siddal and the PRB’s have names that are similar to people connected to those circles at the time – such as Lucinda (Lucy Maddox Brown/ Rossetti) and Franny Moyle (Fanny Cornforth). It made me smile and wonder whether people have “come back” to restore the story!

  • lisa ellen

    Stephanie, forgot to say that several years ago i made a multi-media collage and did not know “who” it was of until i discovered Lizzy’s story. I would like to send it to you as my gift to you, for all of your wonderful PRB work.

    best wishes for your husband’s healing, Lisa E.

    p.s. is there some e-mail address i can send the image to? Please feel free to use my personal e-mail if you can access that here….

  • Allan Siddall

    Thanks so much for this site. I love the story of Elizabeth and her work, and great to find so much on one site. My mother was called Elizabeth Siddall and my daughter also. Sadly my mother has died and never knew the connection, but my daughter looks so like Elizabeth in her portraits. Amazingly, I never realised I was giving my daughter the same name as my mother (who was always called Liz) and all this before I’d ever heard of the original Elizabeth.
    When a cinema usherette saw my daughter’s I.D. recently she gasped ‘You were christened Elizabeth Siddall! Your parents rock!’ Which of course we do (even if we did it all by accident…). Obviously another fan.
    I understand Elizabeth originated from the Sheffield area. My family are from south of Sheffield, so I’ve wondered if there was a family connection anyway.
    Keep up the good work. Allan Siddall

  • Deborah McMillion

    I was very pleased to see a nice site about Lizzie that doesn’t dwell on her eXhumation. I always thought there was a book in the “missing years” and when she was in Sheffield. I visited Highgate in 1998 and asked to see her stone. The ground in the area was covered in snowdrops. I was able to buy two now rare books, 1 from Ruskin museum that contained her poems. But the biggest coup was coming across Roger Lewis and finding he had copies of their limited edition, numbered volume of all her poems, paintings,drawings with her monogram Rossetti did for her. I am letting them go as my art has changed on eBay. I have photos of her stone, too. Thanks!

  • lisa ellen

    I wanted to add the information about the mystery painting at Redhouse. It’s supposed to be a painting celebrating the union of William and Jane Morris but no one knew who painted it. Robert Quarm, the curator of Redhouse called it a “remarkable find because it had been hidden from view for so long.” The newspaper article was entitled, Hidden Tribute to an artist’s doomed love is uncovered after 140 years,” by Alan Hamilton and was in the Times. (www.timesonline.co.uk) . It was written in November of 2005, though! I was so curious which painting it was, but now I’m even more curious about the Lizzy Siddal painting thats being restored for the 150th birthday. Are there images of it anywhere? Or a description?

    Stephanie, i hope you rec’ed the collage.

    And Alan, very interesting about little Lizzy Siddal from South of Sheffield!

  • lisa ellen

    Thanks Deborah! I was so delighted to see it and am imagining what it is about. Perhaps a self-portrait done by Lizzie?…….??

    And thanks so much for your warm response to my collage Stephanie. Your websites are a treasure-trove of interesting material. I’m so glad i found them.

  • Sarah Edmondson

    Hi. I have stumbled across this site purely by accident. We started a family tree and we have been able to trace our roots back to Lizzie Siddal, we are related by her Grandfather, Christopher, which makes us cousins, so many generations removed.Strangely my uncle (who also happens to work in the Sheffield archieves) was e-mailed by “luck” and our story starts from there. I was intrigued when I read a post by a Allan Siddall, that was also the name of my grandfather! I was thrilled to see your site and read the posts, keep up the great work!!

    • Ian Darke


      My Grandmother’s maiden name was Siddall and she always told that her family included Lizzie. Some years after she died I started putting together the family tree and on the Siddall side managed to get back to William Siddall born 1801 in Sheffield. He married Rebecca Moxton (or Mott?) , from Derbyshire in Birmingham where they had 4 children. Given the dates, I assume that if there is a connection to Lizzie it will not be a direct one, but does this information ring any bells with anyone? I would love to prove Grandma right.

  • Norman Sinclair

    I hope to visit Higate again this year.last year I was not allowed to see the Rossetti graves. Any news on this?

  • Maggy Siddall

    My husband’s family – Siddall – are from Sheffield. Like Allan Siddall’s daughter two of our son’s daughters bear a strong resemblance to Lizzie. One in particular to Lizzie as depicted in the painting of ‘Ophelia’. It’s intriguing to wonder if there is a family connection. I also wonder if we have a family connection to Allan or Jon.

  • Camilla Callaway

    Lizzie Siddal was my great grandmother’s great aunt. She was also from the Sheffield area. Her name was Ann Ellen Siddall. Would love to hear from any direct family connections and I would love to know more about Christopher – Lizzie’s & my many times removed grandfather. We too have similarities in our family, especially my daughter Fleur who has the most beautiful very long & thick auburn hair!

  • art bernicke

    Great website! I went on to read what’s possible to read of DGR’s letters on Google Books but am left wondering if his mother ever found out about the exhumation before she herself was lowered into that famous grave.

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