This brought tears to my eyes. It is beautifully poignant. The last image in the video brings to mind something I have long been curious about. That particular photogravure of Lizzie has always disturbed me. I have a copy of the full-size image in my computer, and recently magnified the face so I could examine that odd-looking mouth. It just doesn’t jive with Lizzie’s lip shape in the other existing photogravure, or in any of the portraits and drawings of her. Also, Lizzie’s very pale skin and reddish hair would most likely accompany light-colored lips. The mouth in both photogravures is very dark, and in this one, strangely thin. When greatly magnifying the image, I am almost sure I see, however faintly, the curve of a pale lower lip extending well below the dark slash that passes for her lips. I wonder, did the photographer or someone else perhaps try to bring out her mouth more with a bad re-touch? Or is it some strange play of shadow, I wonder – although that side of her face is well lit. Any shutterbugs out there with a notion as to what might have caused such an alteration?
Given the presumed date of the photograph of 1854 – 1855, it was most likely taken using a wet plate collodion process, as reliable dry gelatins were not around until after 1880. The process could have produced a positive (Ambrotype, popular in the mid 1850s) or negative (Calotype) on a glass plate of 10 by 8 inches, (most popular size at that time). To produce a negative, the exposure time would typically have been five to fifteen seconds depending on the lighting conditions, age and quality of the collodion. Plates used for producing positive images required shorter exposures.
If it was produced as a positive image it would then have to be re-copied to produce a negative from which other prints could be made. Any re-copying could account for the lack of tonal range and high contrast in the print, which would account for the picture having lots of black and lots of white but few tones in between. The other variable in the exposed plate is wetness of the collodion as the plates would lose their sensitivity as they dried; much more likely indoors if it was warm, outside if it was windy or in a studio.
If Lizzie moved her lips by speaking or licking them for example during the exposure, this would have caused blurring, lighter tones and a lack of detail in that area. Similarly, if she had opened and closed her mouth during the exposure, that could account for a ghostly lower lip appearing in the print. On a positive plate, re-touching in the lips would be done by black or dark ink, possibly graphite based, painted on directly. The re-touched positive print could then be recopied as a negative.
If it was originally taken as a negative there is more scope for movement blurring in the final image due to longer exposure times, and in this case dark areas would appear white and cannot be re-touched in the same way as a positive plate or print.
Scaling up the picture to 10 by 8 suggests that at that size, the lips would appear about ¼ to ½ an inch long, not easy to show a lot of detail or be too precise about the shape of Lizzie’s lips. Such accuracy would have been quite a challenge, especially as the photographer would have been doing this at a later stage, working on a processed positive before re-copying to negative for making prints, or working on a print from the first negative before making a second copy.
This is only a good guess at what the circumstances could have been, as those kinds of details don’t survive and are never recorded, being part of the early photographer’s skill and trade secrets.
For reference, I came upon Pre-Raphaelite paintings from a course on the history of photography that inspired me to go deeper into the work of Julia Margaret Cameron.
There was a lot going on at the time with the Pre-Raphaelites at odds with the English art establishment, the photographers wanting their work to be seen as art, and the stirrings of Impressionism in France also challenging how the real world was portrayed. Lizzie and her contemporaries were at the heart of all this, as was Julia Margaret Cameron in exploring photographic interpretation of many of the same themes as the Pre-Raphaelites.
Thank you! I had little hope of anyone knowing enough about the photography process from that time to be able to speculate. Much appreciated!
As always, your knowledge astounds me. Thank you for such an in depth look at Victorian photography.
Here’s a link to my favorite Siddal image at The Rossetti Archive. I love using the zoom feature to get a good look at her face. Although, I wish her eyes were open:
Loved the video. What was the background music?
From Vivaldi’s The Four Season’s, the background music is his Autumn Adagio.
What is the basis for denying the public entry? It is somewhat ironic that Ms. Siddall was denied entry into the same class that now claims rights to her grave. Very British indeed.
I first heard of Lizzie Siddal when I bought a book called ‘ Angel With Bright Hair ‘ by Paula Batchelor (first published 1957) and over the years I have been intrigued and fascinated by her life and sadly early death. I have started watching the BBC 2 series ‘ Desperate Romantics’ which isn’t as bad as I thought it might be. Through this series my interest has re-awakened about Lizzie which I must admit had been stored in the back of my mind for several years. I have also purchased the two books on Lizzie by Lucinda Hawksley and am looking forward to now reading them and I am anticipating enjoying them very much,as she seems to have done a lot of research into Lizzie’s life and I hope to learn a lot through her books. I love the paintings and photos shown of her above especially ‘ Ophelia ‘ which I have a poster of on my wall and also the painting on the jacket of the Paula Batchelor bio which at the time was owned by Mr Francis F.Madan,and was included in this montage.
I am thrilled that you’ve mentioned a book that I have never read! I love a good literary quest and I will definitely have to hunt for this book. After reading your comment, I did find it mentioned on LibraryThing and at OpenLibrary.
You will enjoy the Lucinda Hawksley biography. I’d also like to recommend Jan Marsh’s Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood if you have not read it. It’s not mainly about Lizzie, but seeing her in relation to the other women involved with the Pre-Rapaelites really fleshes out her story and puts it all into context.
Message to Stephanie Pina. Thanks for your reply about my comment. I hope you are able to track down the Paula Batchelor novel on the life of Lizzie. It is told as a novel but is very well told and as I said was my first introduction to Lizzie,Rossetti etc. Thanks for advising me about Jan Marsh’s book on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. I had heard of this book but don’t yet have it. I do however have another bio of Lizzie by Jan Marsh called ‘ The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal ‘ and that too is excellent so I recommend that one. I also have the much larger in size book by Jan Marsh entitled Pre-Raphaelite Women which is again worth having as it shows most of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings with a chapter about Annie Miller,Fanny Cornforh etc. As I said I have now also sent for another bio by Lucinda Hawksley entitled Lizzie Siddal:Face of the Pre-Raphaelites so I hope to enjoy that one as well.
Message to Stephanie. I have now finished reading the Lucinda Hawksley bio on Lizzie called ‘ The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Model ‘ and enjoyed it very much reading it in just 3 days. I am a bit confused though as I have now ordered what I thought was another bio of Lizzie by Lucinda entitled ‘ Lizzie Siddal: Face of the Pre-Raphaelites ‘ which has a different cover hence me thinking it was a different book. However I have a feeling now it is the same bio just with a different title and dust jacket design. Can you advise me if in fact I have ordered the same book twice? This secon book appears to have more pages than the one I have so any idea why that is? Thanks for any help you can be to me. Hope you have had luck locating the Paula Batchelor novel. There are two copies available on Amazon but they are very expensive. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org if you care to email me.
Oh dear, it is the same book twice. For some reason, much like Agatha Christie novels, Hawksley’s biography of Lizzie had one title in the UK and another in the U.S. I’m not sure why the page numbers are different, though.
I’m not surprised that you finished it so quickly. I practically devoured it as soon as it was published!
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