From the moment he laid eyes on her, Rossetti was captivated by the former milliner's assistant. He sketched her, painted her, bedded her and betrayed her constantly with a never-ending stream of lovers. But he kept coming back to her. There was just something about Lizzie.
She was born in 1829, of a working class background, and was first discovered and painted by a student of Rossetti's called Walter Deverell. He painted her as Viola from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
|Ophelia - John Everett Millais|
|Ecce Ancilla Domini - Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
Rossetti's sister, the poet, Christina Rossetti, wrote a poem about her brother's unconventional relationship;
In an Artist's Studio
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-green,
A saint, an angel --every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
In reality, Christina Rossetti was not particularly taken with her brother's choice of life partner.
|The Quest of a Holy Grail - Elizabeth Siddal|
|Proserpine - Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
By now, Lizzie was an increasingly sick and frail woman, addicted to laudanum. Her moods were erratic as was her temper. In 1861 she gave birth to a stillborn daughter and never recovered either physically or mentally. A few months later, her husband came home to find her dead of an overdose of laudanum, either accidental or deliberate. She was 32 years old.
|Beata Beatrix - Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
By now, in dire need of finance, he was persuaded to retrieve the book of poems and ordered her coffin to be exhumed. He wasn't present when they opened it at dead of night, and a legend spread that those who were there witnessed a phenomenon. They said that, after death, her flaming red hair had continued to grow and now filled the coffin. Her body was reported to be perfectly preserved. She was reburied and the poems were published. They were not a success.
|The Queen of Hearts - Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
|Rossetti in 1863, photographed by Lewis Carroll|
O silent wood, I enter thee
With a heart so full of misery
For all the voices from the tree
And the ferns that cling about my knees.
In thy darkest shadow let me sit
When the grey owls about thee flit;
There will I ask of thee a boon,
That I may not faint or die or swoon.
Gazing through the gloom like one
Whose life and hopes are also done,
Frozen like a thing of stone
I sit in thy shadow – but not alone.
Can God bring back the day when we two stood
Beneath the clinging trees in that dark wood?
(Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal)