Today marks the birth of the woman who has had a deep and lasting influence on my life. Despite never actually meeting her, I know her face as well as my own.
Through her art, poetry, and the Pre-Raphaelite works she appears in, Elizabeth Siddal has the power to captivate. The story of her life and struggles beckons to us across time, pulling us into her thrall.
As artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s muse, we can see her influence on his early Pre-Raphaelite works. She then boldly made the move from muse to artist and embarked on a career that was far too brief, but showed great promise.
Unfortunately, many of the dramatic details of her life overshadow her artistic ambitions. Even so, I believe she inspires women and has become a symbol that can motivate us; she represents a 19th-century female strong enough to create her own mark in a rigid, patriarchal world.
Sadly, Lizzie also represents what happens when circumstance and tragedy conspire to prevent that work from coming to fruition.
Jan Marsh’s The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal contains the insight that “in writing about Elizabeth Siddal, women are painting collective self-portraits.” This resonates with me deeply.
For close to twenty years I have studied her, read about her, pondered and attempted to excavate successive layers of concrete knowledge of who she truly was.
In doing so, I find I have explored myself.
No matter how much we learn about and discuss her, she remains somehow unreachable, suspended in an enigmatic mist. I think we project our own needs onto her. She becomes a symbol of ourselves, perhaps the part of us we want to rescue.
I’ve often said that when I embrace images of Ophelia, I’m reaching into my past and comforting my younger self. When we champion Elizabeth Siddal, we as women are cheerleaders for our own creative endeavors, fighting in a way she couldn’t against those who disappoint us; waging, as she was ill-equipped to do, battles against obstacles like depression and addiction.
I admire her immensely. Even after seventeen years of publishing LizzieSiddal.com and writing about her on this site, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of this enigmatic Pre-Raphaelite artist.
Pursuing her has brought a wealth of gifts to my life, including love and friendships that I treasure dearly. Studying her has been a labor of love, and it has rewarded me in ways I will always be grateful for.
For that, on the anniversary of her birth, Lizzie Siddal deserves a sincere thank-you and it is a thank-you whispered in my heart with a combination of respect and joy.
Thank you, Lizzie.
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