Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawkley - review by Catherine Peters

Catherine Peters

Guggum The Beautiful

Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel


André Deutsch 230pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

In a competition to find the most inappropriate nickname ever bestowed, 'Guggum', Dante Gabriel Rossetti's vet name for Elizabeth Siddal, might take the prize. The intense, often moribund Pre-Raphaelite portraits of her suggest tragedy; and it is as a tragic figure that she has most often been seen. She is best known as the model for Millais's dead Ophelia, shown on the cover of Lucinda Hawksley's new book. Stoically uncomplaining as the bath water grew chilly and Millais painted on, Lizzie was quite wrongly rumoured to have died of consumption as a result. Many of Rossetti's most famous paintings of her - in particular Beata Beatrix, showing Dante's Beatrice at the moment of death - are similarly doom-laden. The most macabre episode of her short, sad story happened posthumously, when Rossetti, having impetuously buried the only copy of his poems in her coffin, decided that he would after all rather like to publish them and was persuaded to dig them up.

Modelling was not a respectable profession in the 1850s, but Lizzie Siddal was neither a guttersnipe nor a loose-living demi-mondaine. She came from a decent lower-middle-class family, and was earning her living as a milliner when she was discovered by the painter Walter Deverell, who introduced her to the Pre-Raphaelite

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