Date: English model, painter, and poet, 1829–1862
Biography: Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall (the patrimonial spelling) was one of seven children of a working-class London cutler originally from Sheffield. Her father and his sons ran an ironmongery while the mother and daughters worked in the dressmaking industry. Her economic situation left no possibility for formal artistic training.
Lizzie Siddal, as she was known to her friends, first became acquainted with members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood through their friend Walter Deverell, who may or may not have taken note of her while visiting a milliner's shop with his mother. Alternatively, Deverell's father was a principal of the Government School of Design, and Lizzie may have made this connection for artistic purposes. Through Deverell, Lizzie began modeling for several of the Pre-Raphaelite brethren, first sitting for Rossetti at the end of 1851. Contrary to popular myth, the two did not fall madly in love at first sight, although by the summer of 1852, she was taking lessons from Rossetti and curtailing her modeling activities for other artists.
Rossetti's training included an enthusiasm for the work of William Blake and medieval manuscripts, as well as a dismissal of current trends as practiced at the Royal Academy. The poetry of Wordsworth and Tennyson and their contemporaries, as well as the novels of Sir Walter Scott, seem to have been deemed suitable subject matter, as Siddal's early efforts are almost entirely devoted to these works.
Around 1855 Rossetti brought Lizzie's work to the attention of John Ruskin, who was completely taken, buying everything she had done to date on the spot. Ruskin gave her an allowance in order that her artistic talents could be pursued with greater ease. In addition, he fussed over her with regard to her fluctuating health, recommending her to his favorite doctor and sending her on an excursion to the South of France.
In addition to painting, Siddal wrote a small body of poetry, although this aspect of her creativity does not seem to have been widely known, even during her lifetime. Her ballads are quite similar in feeling to the work of Rossetti's poet sister Christina. Through Rossetti, Siddal became friendly with a number of other female artists of the day, including Anna Mary Howitt (1824-1884), Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891), and Bessie Parkes, as well as Emma Brown, wife of Ford Madox Brown. The Browns seem to have played a mitigating role in the tumultuous, on-again-off-again relationship between Siddal and Rossetti. Several unrealized promises of marriage finally led to a two-year separation in 1858. Then in the spring of 1860, hearing of her illness, Rossetti capitulated and the couple was married on May 23. Sadly, the marriage was of short duration. A stillborn child the following year exacerbated what would appear to have been her natural predilection for depression, compounded by the misuse of the opiate laudanum. Hearing of the pregnancy of her friend Bessie Parkes, and perhaps pregnant herself, Lizzie was discovered unconscious, having overdosed on the drug on February 10, 1862; she died the next morning.
From "Biography of Elizabeth Siddal (1829- 1862)" by Stephen Wildman, in 'Waking Dreams: The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites from the Delaware Art Museum' (Alexandria, VA: Art Services International, 2004), p. 370-371.