Artist in focus | Lizzie Siddal: ‘Beyond Ophelia’

The name Lizzie Siddal meant nothing to me until yesterday, when I visited Wightwick Manor & Gardens (a National Trust property known for its Pre-Raphaelite art collection). However, I did recognise her immediately. You will too: she was the model for the iconic painting by Sir John Everett Millais, ‘Ophelia’. She is also known as the wife and muse of the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

What most people don’t know is that she was a hugely talented artist and poet in her own right. And a current exhibition, ‘Beyond Ophelia’, in one of the rooms at Wightwick, sets out to show this.

About Lizzie Siddal 

Lizzie Siddal was first introduced into the Pre-Raphaelite circle as a model, sitting for Walter Deverell, John Everett Millais, Holman Hunt and Charles Collins. It was when she started to sit for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, lamenting that ‘no man cares for her soul’, and only for her availability as a model, that he took her under his wing as a student (and then wife).

And so, Lizzie Siddal and Rossetti worked side by side in his studio. At the same time, Rossetti was unable to commit and had numerous affairs, including one with Jane Morris, wife of his good friend William Morris. His infidelity was in part to blame for Lizzie Siddal’s grief, jealousy and laudanum addiction. Following the stillbirth of her child, and suffering from postnatal depression, she died from an overdose of laudanum, aged just 31.

Lizzie Siddal, ‘Lovers Listening to Music’

Beyond Ophelia’ – A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet

The exhibition at Wightwick is the second solo show of Lizzie Siddal, aiming to reinstate her as an important and influential artist and poet. On display are 10 drawings and 2 oil paintings. Most of these belong to the manor, since Lady Rosalie Mander, an art historian and biographer of the Pre-Raphaelites, bought a large collection of Lizzie Siddal artworks at auction in 1961. These are exhibited alongside loans of other drawings, previously owned by the Manders, and extracts of her poetry.

‘Beyond Ophelia’ examines Siddal’s exquisite, sinuous style, typically Pre-Raphaelite subject matter, and her depiction of women. It not only shows the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood on her, but her lasting and significant influence on the Victorian art world.

Typical of Pre-Raphaelite art, many of her works are illustrations of myths, fairytales and poetry, including writing by her husband. There is a real sensitivity to her beautifully drawn, elongated figures. The works are defined by a strong storytelling quality, including the depiction of religious subjects. Others are filled with emotion, including an enchanting scene of lovers listening to music, side-by-side. She re-tells each of the tales and scenes from her distinct point of view.

Wightwick Manor & Gardens

Wightwick Manor 

Wightwick was built by the 19th century industrialist, Theodore Mander, in 1887. Inspired by a lecture, given by Oscar Wilde on the ‘House Beautiful’, Theodore and his wife Flora decorated its interiors with the designs of William Morris and his Arts and Crafts contemporaries.

The Pre-Raphaelite collection was mostly assembled after the house was donated to the National Trust, particularly by Geoffrey Mander and his second wife, Rosalie, who was an art historian.

The manor has the work of 11 professional female artists on permanent public display, including notable examples of works by Lizzie Siddal, Evelyn De Morgan, Lucy Madox Brown, Marie Spartali Stillman, and May Morris.

The Malthouse Gallery now houses a group of works by Evelyn De Morgan and her husband William, on loan from the De Morgan Trust.

If you want to read more about Lizzie Siddal, I can recommend this website, which includes her poems, letters and artworks.

‘Beyond Ophelia’ will run until 24th December 2018. It is part of the wider ‘Art & Activism’ programme, at Wightwick Manor & Gardens, celebrating the many women (and a few men) who worked for gender equality through their artistic and activist endeavours and found a haven at Wightwick. 


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