Elizabeth Siddal and the Pre-Raphaelites,  william michael rossetti

William Micheal Rossetti on Elizabeth Siddal

Dante Rossetti speak for it better than I could do.   One could not have seen a woman in whose whole demeanour maidenly and feminine purity was more markedly apparent.   She maintained an attitude of reserve, self-con-trolling and alien from approach.   Without being prudish, and along with a decided inclination to order her mode of life according to her own liking, whether conformable or not to the views of the British  matron, she was certainly distant.

It is interesting that some who knew Lizzie describe her as distant, while others (like Swinburne) describe her as anything but.  Might it be that she is like all of us?  Talkative and at ease with one group, while more quite and reserved with another?

WMR goes on to say: “Her talk was, in my experience, scanty; slight and
scattered, with some amusing turns, and little to seize hold upon—little clue to her
real self or to anything determinate.” 

He touches on Lizzie’s discovery by Deverell and mentions other paintings that she posed for, sharing with us that in his opinion, Ophelia by Millais resembles Lizzie the most. “the Ophelia is the truest likeness, and is indeed a close  one, only that the peculiar poise of the head thwarts the resemblance to some extent”

I enjoy his description of Lizzie and Gabriel as a couple. He creates a cozy picture and I can imagine them quietly ensconced at Chatham Place in artistic solitude drawing and sketching away the hours:

At what precise date Dante and Elizabeth were definitely engaged I am not able to say: it may probably have been before the end of 1851, and I presume that about the same time she finally gave up any attendance in the bonnet-shop. The name Elizabeth was never on Dante’s lips, but Lizzie or Liz; or fully as often Guggums, Guggum,or Gug. Mrs. Hueffer, the younger daughter of Ford Madox Brown, tells an amusing anecdote how, when she was a small child in 1854, she saw Rossetti at his easel in her father’s house, uttering momently, in the absence of the beloved one, “Guggum, Guggum.” Lizzie was continually in Rossetti’s studio, 14, Chatham Place, Blackfriars, tête-à-tête.   Sometimes she was sitting to him, but they were often together without any intention or pretence of a sitting;  as time advanced she was frequently also drawing or painting there for her own behoof. This may have begun some considerable while before July 1854; but it seems to have been only about that date that Rossetti thought expressly that she would do well to turn to professional account the gifts for art which, though not cultivated up to
the regulated standard, she manifestly possessed and clearly exemplified. After a while “Guggum” became so much of a settled institution in the Chatham Place chambers that other people understood that they were not wanted there in and out—and I may include myself in this category. The reader will understand that this continual association of an engaged couple, while it may have gone beyond the conventional fence-line, had nothing in it suspicious or ambiguous, or conjectured by any one to be so. They chose to be together because of mutual attachment, and because Dante was constantly drawing from Guggum, and she designing under his tuition.

Useful indeed is his next passage which shares details of Lizzie’s artwork:

Nothing, I suppose, was more distant from Miss Siddal’s ideas in her earlier girlhood than the notion of drawing or painting; but, under incitement from Rossetti, she began towards the close of 1852. The first design of hers which I find mentioned was from Wordsworth’s  We are Seven, January 1853. In 1853–4 she painted a portrait of herself—the most competent piece of execution that she ever produced, an excellent and graceful likeness, and truly good: it is her very self. This work remains in my possession, and there are few things I should be sorrier to lose.  Other early designs are—a pen-and-ink drawing of Pippa and the Women of Loose Life, from Browning’s drama; a water- colour of the Ladies’ Lament, from the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens; two watercolours from Tennyson, St. Agnes’ Eve and Lady Clare; a spectral subject, watercolour, The Haunted Tree. All these are in my hands, except the Patrick Spens, which belongs to Mr. Watts-Dunton. There was an idea that she, along with Rossetti, would illustrate a ballad-book compiled by William Allingham. This project lapsed; but she

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One Comment

  • mark stevens

    Fascinating article,thanks for bringing it to our attention.Anything that adds to my knowledge of this wonderful woman is so gratefully received.

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