Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Getting to know Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall on her birthday: (July 25, 1829-February 11, 1862)

 Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall 


Miniature Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall


1860-61; 1963


Dante Gabriel Rossetti; George C. Williamson


This delicate, palm-sized portrait sits encased in a jeweled frame made of gold, bowenite, opal, diamonds, and star sapphires. The object was given to The Walters Art Museum in 1963 with a large collection of portrait miniatures. Unlike a traditional painted miniature, this piece is a black and white photograph—likely a carte-de-visite—overpainted in gouache. The first photograph of the object included in our gallery shows the front of the framed photograph. A three-quarter length portrait of a figure sits before a dark blue background, head turned slightly to the left, with her eyes downcast and her hands clasped. A light red shawl is draped around her shoulders and held in place with her hands, partially obscuring a brown striped dress. White accents draw our eyes to her sleeves and the frill at her neck, where a brooch is fastened. In the second image, the engraved inscription on the reverse of the frame, added in the early 20th century, asserts:

This represents / Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, / who on the 25th of May 1860 became the wife of / Dante Gabriel Rossetti. / In May 1861 she gave birth to a child, / and died on February 10th 1862, / having unhappily taken an overdose of Laudanum / in order to relieve a severe form of Neuralgia / by which she was afflicted. / This Portrait was painted by her husband / between December 1860 and May 1861, / and is the only portrait the artist painted / of his wife after her marriage. / He painted her portrait numberless times / before her marriage and made many sketches of her / but afterwards made one slight sketch in pencil / which has been lost / and painted this miniature.

If we choose to accept the inscription on the back of the frame at face value, this portrait remains the only locatable photograph of Elizabeth Siddall. For Dr. Briggs, the photograph’s physical history, as well as its literal “framing,” prompts valuable questions about Siddall’s agency and our role as viewers in the portrait’s ongoing history.

Dr. Briggs explains that the portrait appears to date from around 1860, based on the format of the photograph and the style of the sitter’s dress. However, no written evidence links the photograph or the overpainting to either Siddall or Rossetti. The earliest reference Dr. Briggs has found to the photograph’s existence dates to 1906, when it entered the collection of the American banker J. Pierpont Morgan. It was Morgan, working with his personal curator of portrait miniatures, George C. Williamson, who added the frame and the inscription. The inscription attempts to fix Siddall first and foremost in her traditional feminine roles of wife and mother, while also mythologizing the manner of her death and emphasizing above all her status as a tragic Pre-Raphaelite muse. Dr. Briggs suggested that the frame’s inscription may have been intended by Williamson to persuade Morgan of the portrait’s value and authenticity. The inscription may thus have more to do with the exchange between these two men than it does with Siddall herself.

For Dr. Briggs, the portrait’s ambiguous history and the inscription on the back of the frame relate directly to the issue of Siddall’s agency. As feminist art historians have pointed out, Siddall was a Pre-Raphaelite artist in her own right—but it is her role as model and muse to her husband and his circle that defined and continues to define her. If this is indeed a photograph of Siddall, Dr. Briggs suggested that here, yet again, she has been effaced by Rossetti and his legacy.

The issue of Siddall’s agency has led Dr. Briggs to reflect on her own curatorial role in the portrait’s ongoing history: does looking for further documentary evidence of the photograph’s provenance group her with art experts like Williamson, who attempt to exert their control over this object and Siddall’s image? Dr. Briggs urges us to consider where we can locate Siddall’s agency within the composition of the portrait, pointing out that the way the sitter crosses her hands over her chest recalls Rossetti’s painting “Beata Beatrix.” Did Siddall work with Rossetti to find this introspective stance, which both “attracts and deflects the male gaze”? Or did she perhaps decide for herself how to pose for the photograph?

Ultimately, Dr. Briggs reminds us that this portrait is forever altered not only by the layer of gouache and the elaborate frame but also by the narrative that has built up around it—and each of these elements mediate our relationship to the object. (Jo Briggs, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland).
Elizabeth Siddall, 1860, photograveure  and autograph letter from Elizabeth Siddal to Georgiana Burne-Jones, 12 March 1861 Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, on loan to the University of Delaware Library.

Chatham Place
Tuesday Morning

My dear Little Georgie,

     I hope you intend coming over with Ned tomorrow evening like a sweet meat, it seems so long since I saw you dear.  Janey will be here I hope to meet you. 

With a willow pattern dish full of love to you and Ned.


 Elizabeth Siddal's beautiful poem archived, Ashmolean Museum, U.K.

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall, Manuscript sheet of poetry. 
"Thy strong arms around me love."
Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Thy strong arms are around me, love
My head is on thy breast;
Low words of comfort come from thee
Yet my soul has no rest.

For I am but a startled thing
Nor can I ever be
Aught save a bird whose broken wing
Must fly away from thee.

I cannot give to thee the love
I gave so long ago,
The love that turned and struck me down
Amid the blinding snow.

I can but give a failing heart
And weary eyes of pain,
A faded mouth that cannot smile
And may not laugh again.

Yet keep thine arms around me, love,
Until I fall to sleep;
Then leave me, saying no goodbye
Lest I might wake, and weep.

Lovers listening to music by Elizabeth Siddall, 1854

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

An early review of The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton

Alive with the magic of 18th-century Amsterdam, an enchanting, fantastical stand-alone companion novel to the sensational New York Times bestseller The Miniaturist, which has sold over two million copies worldwide.

Amsterdam in the year 1705. It is Thea Brandt's eighteenth birthday. She is ready to welcome adulthood with open arms, but life at home is increasingly difficult. Her father Otto and her Aunt Nella argue endlessly over their financial fate, selling off furniture in a desperate attempt to hold on to the family home.

As catastrophe threatens to engulf the household, Thea seeks refuge in Amsterdam's playhouses. She loves the performances, and the stolen moments afterwards are even better. In the backrooms of her favorite theater, Thea can spend a few precious minutes with her secret lover, Walter, the chief set-painter, a man adept at creating the perfect environments for comedies and tragedies to flourish. The thrill of their hidden romance offers Thea an exciting distraction from home. But it also puts her in mind of another secret that threatens to overwhelm the present: Thea knows her birthday marks the day her mother, Marin, died in labor. Thea's family refuses to share the details of this story, just as they seem terrified to speak of “the miniaturist” - a shadowy figure from their past who is possessed of uncanny abilities to capture that which is hidden.

Aunt Nella believes the solution to all Thea's problems is to find her a husband who will guarantee her future. An unexpected invitation to Amsterdam's most exclusive ball seems like a golden opportunity. But when Thea finds, on her doorstep, a parcel containing a miniature figure of Walter, it becomes clear that someone out there has another fate in mind for the family . . .

A feat of sweeping, magical storytelling, 
The House of Fortune is an unputdownable novel about love and obsession, family and loyalty, and the fantastic power of secrets.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bloomsbury Publishing (August 30, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1635579740
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1635579741
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.23 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.55 x 1.35 x 9.55 inches

Herengracht in Amsterdam canal

 Love is something that is learned in far less alluring settings, than playhouses and ballrooms.  It is earned in the deeds you do.  The words you speak.  It takes practice.  Patience.  Time.  You will learn about love, I am sure.  But it might not take the form you originally expected.

Thank you to netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing. U.S. Publication Day:  August 30, 2022

The House of Fortune is the sequel to author, Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist. I have to say, there are many families that I sometimes found an overwhelmingly amount of characters to be distracting from the novel.

If you enjoyed, The Miniaturist than reading Nella's chapters and discovering who the mid 30s woman is and what she goes through, should be eye opening.  Otto is now the man of the house and Cornelia is a housekeeper and caretaker.

Personally, the most interesting character is Thea the 18 year old daughter of Otto and Marin. It was her storyline that kept me turning pages.  Her quest for love and the maturation of the reality of a love relationship and the fairy tale was gripping and quite touching to follow.

To pre-order The House of Fortune on Bloomsbury Pulishing


My review of The Unfinished Business of Eadie Browne by Freya North

  When your present meets your past, what do you take with you - and what do you leave behind? ** Eadie Browne is an odd child with unusual ...