ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL (1834-1862) Biography
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

Study for La Belle Dame sans Merci (England, c.1855)

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Pencil on cream paper
Inscribed on the reverse in pencil in William Michael Rossetti's handwriting By Lizzie R Belle Dame sans Merci?


15.20cm high
10.20cm wide
(5.98 inches high)
(4.02 inches wide)
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William Michael Rossetti

Description / Expertise

Lizzie Siddal became a regular model for the Pre-Raphaelites after she was introduced to their fellow artist Walter Howell Deverall in 1849. She sat for Viola in his Royal Academy exhibit Twelfth Night and subsequently to Holman Hunt, Rossetti and most famously for Millais’ Ophelia (1852). She became a regular model to Rossetti who, upon realising that she herself was exceptionally talented, referred to her as his ‘pupil’ in a letter to Christina Rossetti.(1) By 1854, Rossetti and Lizzie were engaged in secret, the beginning of a besotted and tempestuous relationship, cut short tragically two years after their marriage in 1860 by Lizzie’s fatal laudanum overdose.

The early years of Lizzie and Rossetti’s relationship, nevertheless seem to be filled with optimism. His friend Barbara Leigh Smith wrote to the poet Bessie Parkes: Now my dear I have got a strong interest in a young girl formerly model to Millais and Dante Rossetti, now Rossetti’s love and pupil. She is a genius and will, if she lives, be a great artist. (2) The two would use each other as models and Rossetti encouraged her to use the freedom of her imagination. Furthermore, Ruskin became an enthusiastic patron of her works and all this gave her the confidence to attempt more ambitious subjects and compositions, such as from Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and other Romantic poetry. On 23rd January 1855, Dante Gabriel Rossetti told William Allingham how his good pupil … progresses always as an artist. She is now doing watercolours (from ‘We are Seven’ and ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’). (3)

(1) Jan Marsh, Elizabeth Siddal, Pre-Raphaelite Artist 1829-1862, The Ruskin Gallery, 1991, page 13
(2) May 1854, in Parkes Papers, Girton College, Cambridge
(3) The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti