Elizabeth Siddal

Hubbard, Elbert. Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal. East Aurora, N.Y.: The Roycrofters, 1906.

Pissarro, Lucien. Rossetti. London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1900.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal was a Pre-Raphaelite artist and model, and the wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The book Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal refers to a series of biographical pieces written by Elbert Hubbard. Starting in 1894, each month Hubbard released a volume with themes such as “Good Men and Great,” “Famous Women,” “Eminent Artists,” “Great Reformers,” and more. 

According to Hubbard, “Miss Siddal was reserved, because she realized that she could never talk as picturesquely as she could look. People who know their limitations are in the line of evolution. The girl was eager and anxious to learn, and Rossetti set about to educate her. In the operation he found himself loving her with a mad devotion.” Much of the description of Siddal in the book focuses on her looks and devotion to Rossetti, rather than on her personality or accomplishments. Madox Brown’s description of Siddal in her diary is particularly striking: “Saw Miss Siddal, looking thinner and more death-like, and more beautiful and more ragged than ever; a real artist, a woman without parallel for many a long year.” Here the phrase “death-like” is connected to Siddal’s beauty.

Hubbard describes Rossetti as unapproachable after Siddal’s death: “His friends feared for his sanity, and had he not been closely watched it is quite possible that one grave would have held the lovers.” A year after her death, Rossetti would paint “Beata Beatrix,” a portrait featuring Siddal as Beatrice seated on a balcony overlooking Florence. In Hubbard’s description of the painting, “the beautiful eyes filled with ache, dream and expectation are closed as if in a transport of calm delight. An hourglass is at hand and a dove is just dropping a poppy, the flower of sleep and death, into her open hands. Of course, the picture is a portrait of the dear, dead wife, and so in all the pictures thereafter painted by Dante Gabriel for the twenty years that he lived, you perceive that while he had various models, in them all he traced resemblances to this first, last and only passion of his life.”

Although not included in this exhibition, Siddal illustrated The Lady of Shalott in 1853, one year after modeling for Millais’ Ophelia painting. Using pen ink on paper, Siddal created a sketch depicting the Lady looking outside the window, her tapestry, the cracked mirror, and Lancelot on his horse. The untangled tapestry implies chaos and the undoing of the maiden’s own life at the cracking of the mirror and the curse setting upon her. Viewers might consider the maiden in the sketch to be a self-portrait of Siddal herself. Siddal chooses to depict the maiden at the point the mirror has cracked; she is not passively watching Lancelot or reclining in her boat, but instead is herself active. Siddal’s work both represents and is representative of women’s artistic autonomy. More than a passive muse, she was an artist in her own right who inspired contemporaries such as Waterhouse and Hunt in their depictions of the Lady of Shalott.