Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pre-Raphaelite South London (1): Elizabeth Siddal

Who is the most famous female face from South London? Most people would probably answer Kate Moss, but there is another contender whose face has been seen by millions staring out from paintings and their poster and postcard reproductions.

Elizabeth Siddal (1829 -1862) was the model for many of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Millais painted her as Ophelia (above), for which she had to lay in a bath of cold water while he painted. Her lover (and eventually) husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted her many times, perhaps most notably after her death in Beata Beatrix (below).

Siddal was born in Holborn but lived in South London from an early age, at Upper Ground in Lambeth and then 8 Kent Place (this no longer exists, but was on the Old Kent Road, close to the present day flyover). Her father ran an ironmonger's business from their home at the latter address. Siddal recalled that one of her family's landlords was James Greenacre, executed at Newgate, 2nd of May, 1837, for murdering and mutilating a woman. Greenacre was arrested in his lodgings at St Alban's Place, Kennington Road, and convicted of killing Hannah Brown. Her torso had been found in Edgware Road, and later her legs in a ditch in Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell.

Siddal was living in Kent Place and working in a hat shop when she started modelling. She was also a painter and a poet in her own right, and was taken up by John Ruskin who acted as her patron. She visited him at his home in Camberwell (Denmark Hill). Siddal and Rossetti were also regular visitors to the Red House, the home of William Morris in Bexleyheath.

Siddal died of a laudanum overdose in 1862, at her and Rossetti's home in Chatham Place, next to the River Thames by Blackfriars.

Source: Lizzie Siddal - The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawksley.


kate said...

I love the top one ....i went to the tate years ago on a school trip and saw it there. Excellent post. ;-)

Transpontine said...

Apparently the postcard of Ophelia is consistently the bestselling postcard in the shop at Tate Britain