Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Head of Elizabeth Siddal (1855)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Head of Elizabeth Siddal (1855)



A variant of this description was originally published at The Rossetti Archive. 

Scholarly Commentary


This image of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1829-1862) is perhaps the most dominant figura of the first phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Until her tragic death of an overdose of laudanum, she was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's principal model. She inspired him to create an extraordinary series of portrait drawings, and he used her image as the focus for some of his most famous and important pictures, not least of all the series of Beata Beatrix paintings he began creating the year after her death. Other Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists painted her as well, most famously John Everett Millais in his Ophelia (1852).

Siddal (or “Lizzie,” and variously nicknamed by Rossetti as “Guggums” and “the Sid”) became a quasi legendary figure. Different stories circulated about who first “discovered” her, and about her relatively humble background, about her character and temperament, and about the exact circumstances of her death.

Rossetti and Siddal engaged themselves to each other in the early 1850s but kept postponing their marriage, which did not take place until 1860. Their life together, often troubled and always intense, was strongly shaped by a master/pupil relation. Siddal was not only Rossetti's model and lover, she became his companion and with his encouragement a poet and artist in her own right. Later in their life together Rossetti liked to pose her working at an easel and they collaborated on some pictures, most notably on The Quest of the Holy Grail (1852).

Physical Description

Medium: Pen and brown and black ink.

Dimensions: 4 3/4 x 4 1/4 in.

Signature: Monogram.

Date on Image: 6 February 1855.

Note: The monogram and date are inscribed at lower left.

Production Description

Production Date: 6 February 1855.

Exhibition History: Tate 1923 (no.222); Birmingham 1947 (no.221); Whitechapel 1948 (no.76); Arts Council, Three Centuries of British Art 1951 (no.147); Colnaghi, Exhibition of F. F. Madan's Collection 1962, (no.34); Ashmolean Museum, Rossetti's Portraits of Elizabeth Siddal 1991 (no.26).

Model: Elizabeth Siddal.


Current Location: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Archival History: Rossetti Sale (lot 59); Fairfax Murray; Christie's sale 30 January 1920 (lot 41(1)); F. F. Madan Bequest 1961; Ashmolean Museum.

How to Cite this Web Page (MLA format)

McGann, Jerome. “Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal.” Rossetti Archive Galleries. The COVE: The Central Online Victorian Educator, covecollective.org. [Here, add your last date of access to The COVE].

Copyright: ©Courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Associated Place(s)

Timeline of Events Associated with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Head of Elizabeth Siddal (1855)


  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Image Date: 

6 Feb 1855