An Interview with Kris Lundberg discussing her play Muse and Remembering Elizabeth Siddal

On this day in 1862, Mrs. Dante Gabriel Rossetti passed away. Her name was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (25 July 1829 – 11 February 1862) an artist's muse who dreamed of becoming an artist herself and she was well on her way until well we all know how it ended. So,  I wanted to do something different to honor such an enigmatic woman. Besides, the blog biography article with Pre-Raphaelite centered Rossetti Siddal 'Muse' association; I thought of my friend Kris Lundberg and the idea of interviewing her! What better day to post an interview than today? Well, I must explain that I came home from work last night, dog tired when I remembered today's anniversary and thought what could I do differently...So, my wholehearted, complete gratitude to Kris Lundberg for answering my interview questions not only in less than my short not so 24 hour request but her answers are straight from the heart with love and dedication to Lizzie and of course her Gabriel...

Here we go...get ready and wherever you are, Mrs. Rossetti nee Siddal, Lizzie, I hope you have found peace in your heart and are together with your parents and siblings and your Gabriel.  Enough of my rambling on and on...

Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal Resting, Holding a Parasol by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, 1828 - 1882)
Dated 1852-55,  Pen and brown ink with light brown and gray wash 
Private Collection (England) [sold, Christie's, London, December 12, 1992, lot 78] The J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles, California
Dante Gabriel Rossetti sharply foreshortened Elizabeth Siddal's sleeping body, allowing her voluminous skirt to dominate the drawing's foreground while her torso and head, more faintly drawn, recede in the background. Siddal began sitting for Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists in 1849, when she was about fifteen. By 1852 she was working exclusively for painter-poet Rossetti and became his lover and his pupil. Rossetti made more than sixty intimate drawings of her in the 1850s, in which she usually appeared in some type of repose.

 Elizabeth Siddal (Mrs. Dante Gabriel Rossetti), c. 1854
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Art Institute Chicago

If you would like to learn more about the romance between Lizzie and Rossetti, A Pre-Raphaelite Tale, Kimberly Eve Musings of a Writer 

Kris Lundberg has spent the past thirteen years advocating for educational advancement of students in New York City using a creative curriculum. 
 As a teacher, she teaches pre K-12 students, in addition to serving as a guest teaching artist at colleges.  As a community leader, Kris has stepped into the shelters and continues to teach her theater workshops to women in need, as well as serving as a mentor to Columbia University students with an interest in theater and education. As an actress, she's worked on the stage and screen and, as a writer, her plays have been produced in New York, London and the Carolinas.  Additionally, she is the author of children's book "Sniffy McSnifferson Meets the Beloved". 
Kris has trained classically with Julian Glover, Bill Homewood and Richard Ryan in London, UK and holds her Bachelor of Science and Professional Licensure in K-12 teaching in Theater Education from East Carolina University in North Carolina. She is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, The Shakespeare's Society, SAG-AFTRA and the Actors’ Equity Association.  

1)   Elizabeth Siddal is known mainly as the ‘muse’ of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite Painter and the man who became her husband. Who is ‘Lizzie’ to you? Why bring her out of the shadows into the light? 

Lizzie a multi-talented, powerhouse of a woman.  Historically, people tend to remember her first as the model for John Millais’ painting “Ophelia” and second as the muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Her story is often told in tow of the Pre-Raphaelite men when she really deserves a playing space of her own.  She certainly is interesting enough.   She seemed talented beyond her years and it’s devastating that she cut her life short when her world was just ahead of her.   The pre-Raphs loved to paint the fallen woman which she played well.  It was also important for me to show the beautiful beacon of light she was and portray a Victorian woman as a symbol of strength.

2)      What inspired you to write, "Muse"? How did it come about?

When I lived in London, I fell in love with Pre-Raphaelite paintings and made frequent visits to the Tate Museum.  The first painting I saw there was of Elizabeth Siddal as “Ophelia”.  It was hauntingly beautiful and I was drawn to who this model was.  I spent years researching the Victorian era, the PRB history and Lizzie’s transition from growing up in the slums to becoming the 19th century’s Kate Moss.  In the Shakespeare’s Sister Company’s inaugural season of The Woolf Series, we premiered a performance reading of the full-length play which had informed a rewrite and focused specifically on the love story between Lizzie and Dante.  I premiered the one-act play at Theater For The New City this past year and am in the process of working on producing the fully developed, full-length production where the audience is introduced to new characters such as Hunt, Millais, Deverell and Mrs. Tozer.  I’m ecstatic to see the type of response this production will get.  It still remains a Victorian  non-fiction drama, but there will some twists which the audience won’t be expecting! 

3)   How did you decide what aspects of Elizabeth Siddal’s life to focus on in your play,   "Muse"?

It’s really tough because, in the one-act, I covered thirteen years of history in a seventy-five minute play.  Due to the excellent coverage in the books and websites of Lucinda Hawksley, Jan Marsh and Stephanie Pina (the Pre-Raph Trinity), I was able to gather what I needed to streamline Lizzie’s life events without major gaps.   Because the play is kind of like a ghost story from Rossetti’s memories of her, we got to see the muse through the artist’s eyes.  The majority of the play focuses on her early years of modeling to her death and ghostly memory.  However, it was really important for me to have Lizzie tell Rossetti about her family life and to show how rough it was for her in the slummier area of Southwark.  To show how her inner talents brought her out of poverty and escalated her to a rich, rewarding life that became larger than life.  Everyone in the Victorian era was enamored by the painting of “Ophelia” and, to this day, it’s such a famous painting that people may not know the name of the model, but they know her inescapable sorrow.  Elizabeth Siddal is one of the most, well-deserved empathized true figures in history who people just seem to love.

4)      In "Muse" you include Lizzie’s trip to France and John Ruskin coming into the frame during her relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Could you talk a bit about about Lizzie’s time in France?

Yes, something which I plan to expand on in the full-length play.  There’s a rich and beautiful history of what happens in France that needs explaining.  Ruskin adored Lizzie and sent her to the South of France to recover from the pneumonia she suffered from posing for “Ophelia”.  While she enjoyed the South of France, this was the first time in her life Lizzie actually had money.  She could afford to go shopping and wanted to dress like the women in Paris.  She never wore corsets, but that didn’t stop her from buying some.  It was also around this time when Lizzie decided to invest in herself as an artist and see if she was really good.  She furthered her education by taking some art classes and perfecting her technique.  She was struggling though.  In a time when she should have been on top of the world, she was neglected by Rossetti who often painted and slept with other women while she was away. 

5)   What would you like to say about Lizzie that you haven’t already said? Do you think she would have been as interesting to Pre-Raphaelite art lovers if not for her connection to Rossetti?

What a great question.  Of course my immediate response is absolutely.  However, in the Victorian times and even to this day, the world still seems to feel more comfortable seeing a dude in driver’s seat.  Traditionally, that’s what we’ve been exposed to and it’s sad.  The rare times we see a woman taking the lead, she’s in some sort of distress needing a man to save her from herself or she’s a cookie cutter representing something evil that accents all of her physical features.  This is why more women are writing and producing to create art that step away from these archetypes and take a risk on creating great stories.  Elizabeth Siddal through her charm and nature, I believe, would have become this interesting, however I don’t think she would have become the iconic figure people see her as today without Rossetti’s endorsement. Rossetti was an incredibly charismatic gent who demanded attention when he entered a room, so for anyone to take their eyes off him to focus on Elizabeth, she has to be that much more captivating.  Historically, he created opportunities for her and introduced her to people.  He also became her mentor.  She in-kind complimented him as well, especially when it came to Ruskin.  They fit each other.  It’s devastating how it all turned out though.  My hope with “Muse” is that people will see this is a love story between artists, but, even more, it’s a tribute to the incredible person Lizzie was.    

 For more information about Actress, Writer, and Playwright,  Kris Lundberg

To discover more about her fabulous play, "Muse" to buy tickets, check out their calendar of events, and or just get involved,  Shakespeare's Sister Company