Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862)

Elizabeth Siddal - the family name was 'Siddall' but she signed with the shorter spelling - is best known as the wife and first muse of Rossetti and the subject of many Pre-Raphaelite pictures. She was also an amateur painter.

Siddal had no formal art training. She was introduced to the minor Pre-Raphaelite Walter H. Deverell in 1849, sitting for his Twelfth Night as Viola, and then became a model for the whole Pre-Raphaelite group. She was the girl looking after the priest in Holman Hunt's Converted British Family Rescuing a Priest, the Ophelia in the famous picture by Millais, and sat regularly for Rossetti from 1852, becoming his pupil and girlfriend.

Through Rossetti, Siddal met Ford Madox Brown and then Ruskin, who became her patron in around 1855, buying everything she had drawn.

Unfortunately, Siddal seems to have become addicted to Laudanum some time before 1860, the year she finally married Rossetti. She had a miscarriage the following year and died from an overdose of Laudanum in February 1862, aged just 32.

Siddal worked mainly in watercolour, producing a range of small pictures from the mid-1850s. She was also was a poet. It is unclear what influence her drawings had on Rossetti's work, but claims that he copied a lot from her seem false. Rossetti was already developed as a painter, and Siddal's work from the beginning is totally in his style.

Her paintings do show some good and imaginative compositions, and good colours, but carried out in a weak manner. She had no idea of drapery or of texture, and her self portrait is feeble and lifeless. Her only training was due to Rossetti, and he was no draughtsman and, it seems, an indifferent teacher. Her existing work consists of the small watercolours, and drawings that would have been good for woodcuts - early works in a career that might have lead to better things had she not died too soon.

Siddal's most important work, Clerk Saunders, is at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The Ladies' Lament (from Sir Patric Spens) is in the Tate Gallery, as is A Lady offering a Pennant to a Knight's Spear. Other work is at the Ashmolean Museum, including a Madonna and Child, and a Madonna and Child with an Angel is in the Delaware Art Museum.

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