Monday, April 10, 2023

Elizabeth Siddal: Her Story by Jan Marsh - A review

Elizabeth Siddal is remembered as a Pre-Raphaelite supermodel and the muse and wife of Gabriel Rossetti. She is cast as a tragic heroine much like the Ophelia she modelled in the renowned Millais painting. But Elizabeth Siddal: Her Story overturns this myth. ‘Lizzie’ is presented as an aspirational and independent woman, artist and poet who knew what she wanted and was not afraid to let it be known.

With extraordinary stories, including previously undiscovered details of Siddal’s journeys across the UK and to the south of France, Jan Marsh reclaims Siddal’s narrative from the historical record. She brings new perspective to the post-natal, mental trauma Elizabeth suffered after a stillbirth. Furthermore, she casts new light on the renowned story of Siddal’s grave being exhumed for Rossetti’s poems.

Jan Marsh explores the finer, little known details of Siddal’s life, including her four months at art school in Sheffield, which Rossetti’s brother always denied. In addition to this, few will know how Siddal was often regarded as difficult and ungrateful.

A beautiful production, this illustrated book contains many of Siddal's own images which feature alongside Rossetti's at Tate Britain.

Historical record tends to forget or misremember women, but with Elizabeth Siddal: Her Story, Jan Marsh forces us to take a closer look and see a very different picture. Siddal was not passive and lacking in agency; she was a woman, artist and poet with a strong mind, flourishing career and an admirable talent.

Jan Marsh is a biographer and curator who pioneered the feminist understanding of women in the artistic circle around the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She followed this with individual life stories and scholarly studies that bring hitherto neglected women into the historical record, together with ground-breaking exhibitions, notably Pre-Raphaelite Sisters at the National Portrait Gallery in 2019-20. In Elizabeth Siddal: Her Story she presents a radical new account of the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite model and artist, who died tragically young.

Publisher:  Pallas Athene

Publication date: 6 April 2023

Hardback – 165 x 198 mm – 158 pages

101 colour and black-and-white images

Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

There was an English dinner here on Christmas Day, ending with plum-pudding, which was really very good indeed, and an honour to the country. I dined up in my room where I have dined for the last three weeks on account of bores. First class, one can get to the end of the world but one can never be alone or left at rest.  (Elizabeth Siddal writing her travel memories in a fit of boredom from Hotel des Princes, France, 1855).

Elizabeth Siddal Her Story is an illustrated look at the life of Elizabeth Siddal and those around her before and after meeting the men of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The paintings and drawing by herself and her husband, painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti are currently being shown in the Tate Britian exhibition, The Rossettis. 

"Lizzie" needed an upgrade shall we say; a much needed complete study of her life and Jan Marsh is just the woman to do it.  Her findings from researching the Siddall family to Elizabeth's first working jobs, to being discovered, to becoming a sitter, then a muse to finding love with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her illness, her weight, her looks. Was she just very independent in nature or was she doing her best to serve as inspiration for all these creative men!  It must have been hell.

Jan Marsh has debunked a very long standing myth, she has shared two letters Elizabeth Siddal wrote herself that give insight into Elizabeth's wonderful sense of humor. Jan Marsh writes about the relationship with John Ruskin, her trip to France, as well as what inspired Elizabeth Siddal to writer her poetry and paint her paintings. 

You will travel with The Rossettis (Gabriel and Lizzie) as they travel through England meeting some of his dearest artist friends and why Elizabeth did not meet all of her husband's immediate family.  Sharing artisitic experiences between the two I found to be very romantic, i.e. Rossetti's many poems about Lizzie but to get a glimpse into Elizabeth's poems and paintings while in love with Gabriel was just beautiful.

When it came to the sad end of Elizabeth's life, Jan Marsh uses  her paintings to support the well known surviving documentation surrounding her death, her burial, her funeral, etc. 

I will put the link to the publishing company for ayone who would like to purchase, Pallas Athene

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