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Tragedy of Art’s Greatest Supermodel

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If we look at some of the most splendid artworks, we will find that most of them are defined by the marvelous representation of the subjects. While artists like Leonardo da Vinci found inspiration in other individuals, others like Vincent van Gogh indulged in creating self-portraits. 

However, if you ask any art expert about the greatest muse in history, the most common answer would be Elizabeth Siddall. Commonly known as ‘Lizzie’, she was one painted and drawn extensively by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Sadly, her life was marked with several trials and tribulations, ultimately leading to her early demise. We shall be attempting to shed some light on the journey of her life and what led to its tragic end. 

Early Life

Elizabeth Siddall was born on 25 July 1989 in London, England. Her father, Charles Crooke Siddall was involved in the cutlery-making business. While there is no formal proof to justify whether Lizzie had attended school or not, however, she learned how to read and write with the help of her parents.

After reading the works of Lord Alfred Tennyson, Lizzie developed a keen interest in poetry and starting writing her own poems. Soon, she started to work at a milliner’s shop near Leicester Square to support her family financially. However, her mother always remained concerned about her frail health.

Simultaneously, Lizzie started showing an inclination towards drawing as well. She presented some of her early work before the father of renowned artist Walter Deverell while she was working. This was a significant turn in her life, as Deverell’s father recommended her to model for his son’s paintings. 

Modeling for the Pre-Raphaelite Brothers

Ophelia  1851-52. The painting by Sir John Everett Millais

After the life-changing meeting with Deverell’s father, Lizzie was employed as a model for most of Walter Deverell’s pieces of art. Initially, she worked on a part-time basis and split her time between the shop and modeling.

One of the first paintings that Deverell painted with Lizzie as the model was an oil painting based on a deleted scene from the Twelfth Night. This painting depicted a scene between Orsino, Feste, and Viola as Cesario. Like most Pre-Raphaelite pieces of art, this painting derived its primary inspiration from the real world. 

Thus, this was the gateway for Lizzie to meet several notable Pre-Raphaelite artists, including John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. In fact, Lizzie was Millais’s magnum opus, Ophelia which was painted in 1852.

Relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The first instance when Lizzie modeled for Rossetti was in the year 1850. However, this was for one of his lesser-known paintings, Rossovestita. Soon, Lizzie started modeling exclusively for Rossetti, who, as per several art experts, prohibited Lizzie from modeling for other artists of that time.

This was because Rossetti and Lizzie were involved romantically, and as per art experts, Rossetti grew jealous of Lizzie’s growing fame. Previously deemed to be too thin to be a model, Lizzie redefined the beauty standards for modeling during that period that increased her popularity among the artists. 

However, the love story of Rossetti and Lizzie was a tragic romance filled with melancholy and despair. They continued to remain ‘engaged’ for close to a decade, while Rossetti was serially unfaithful in the relationship. Consequently, Lizzie developed a drug habit as she became addicted to laudanum.

A Career as an Artist

clerk saunders
Clerk Saunders. The painting by Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal

Under the able guidance of Rossetti and his patron John Ruskin, Lizzie began to learn the intricacies of art and started her own journey as an artist. However, her artworks were mostly ridiculed by art critics in her initial days. These comments did not dampen her spirits and she continued to hone her artistic skills.

In 1857, Lizzie was the only female exhibitor at the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition in London, where her artwork Clerk Saunders was purchased by an influential US collector. Soon, Lizzie realized that Rossetti and Ruskin were controlling her life. Hence, she decided to return to London and become an independent artist.

She enrolled in the Sheffield School of Art to develop her artistic skills and substantiate her place as an independent female artist in the then male-dominated world. However, not much is known about her life as an artist in London. There are certain letters and evidence that state that she got severely ill in 1860, and soon she got married to Rossetti.

The Inevitable Decline

regina cordium

After their marriage, Rossetti and Lizzie went on an elongated honeymoon to Paris, after returning from where Lizzie found out that she was pregnant. It was during this time that Rossetti painted his marvelous masterpiece, Regina Cordium

Unfortunately, Lizzie continued to remain addicted to laudanum, and tragically gave birth to a stillborn. Thereafter, she fell into an unrecoverable depression, often suspecting Rossetti of infidelity in the marriage. This led to her increased addiction to laudanum.

In February 1862, Lizzie overdosed on laudanum while Rossetti was out on a dinner with his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne. Once Rossetti returned back home, he found Lizzie lying unconscious. Unfortunately, it was too late for the doctors to retrieve her.


Lizzie was perhaps the greatest supermodel who made a remarkable contribution in redefining the existing notions about beauty in the Pre-Raphaelite period. If you wish to collect some wonderful masterpieces wherein Lizzie is the model, we recommend you visit the 1st Art Gallery, a trustworthy website for acquiring authentic reproductions of famous oil paintings. 

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