Elizabeth Siddal is the most well-known of the early Pre-Raphaelite models. A model first, she later became an artist in her own right.
Born on 25 July 1829 she was brought up with her sisters and brothers in 8 Kent Place in Southwark. Her father was a cutler and the family was not well off. Lizzie began working and by 1849 she was an apprentice at a bonnet shop in the Cranbourne Alley, Leicester Square. It was here that the oft repeated encounter between Walter Deverell and herself took place. He was able persuade her, with the help of his mother, to sit for his paintings. Deverell soon introduced his find to Rossetti who declared that at his first meeting he felt “his destiny was defined.” Lizzie was in demand as a model sitting for Hunt’s Converted British Family and Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus, and most famously for Millais’s Ophelia.
Rossetti sketched, painted, and drew her in endless poses, as Dante’s Beatrice, as Delia, as Ophelia, and mostly as herself. Said Ford Madox Brown upon seeing endless sketches of her: “It is like a monomania with him….”
How does a young bonnet-maker hold her own among the artists and writers of the Brotherhood?