Ophelia, painted by Sir John Everett Millais in 1851-2, is one of the most famous images of Elizabeth Siddal.
Due to Millais’ beautiful and intricate work, Lizzie has become so associated with the character of Ophelia that, to many, they are inseparable. It’s hard not to draw parallels – the golden Pre-Raphaelite stunner fell prey to illness posing as Ophelia. Ophelia lost her father, Lizzie her stillborn child. Ophelia, overwhelmed with grief and madness, sang strange songs while those around her seemed unsure of what to do. Lizzie rocked an empty cradle, urging others to be silent so as not to wake the phantom child. Ophelia drowned, Lizzie overdosed. And ultimately, Hamlet leapt into Ophelia’s grave. Rossetti exhumed Lizzie’s grave.And aren’t the similarities themselves so deliciously Shakespearean?
The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, written in 1899 by his son, is a wonderful window through which we can explore Lizzie and Ophelia more deeply.
Let’s dive in, shall we?