Elizabeth “Lizzie” SiddaI wasn’t beautiful by conventional 19th-century standards. Tall, thin, and red-headed, she worked in a hat factory, making her pale skin and gauntness even more striking. She wouldn’t have been noticed as beautiful at the time except that she caught the eye of Walter Howell Deverell in the winter of 1849. He was a member of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters trying to bring back Renaissance traditions.
It turns out all of the painters all found her to be a perfect muse. Siddal eventually became a member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement herself as an artist and poet.
Being an artist’s model was a scandalous profession at the time, but it was Deverell’s wealthy mother who arrived to ask Siddal’s mother for permission for her son to paint her. Apparently agreeing that it was a safer profession, she was allowed to model part-time.
Deverell painted her as Viola in Twelfth Night, Holman Hunt painted her for A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids (1850), and Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted her for the first time in 1850 in Rossovestita. Siddal and Rossetti eventually got engaged, and he painted her thousands of times, even becoming jealous and refusing to let others paint her after a while.
According to Siddal’s biographer Lucinda Hawksley:
“Although today Lizzie Siddal’s willowy build, gaunt features and lustrous copper-coloured hair are considered signs of beauty, in the 1850s being very thin was not considered sexually attractive, and red hair was described by one female journalist as “social suicide”. Through her modelling work and the success of the paintings she appeared in, Lizzie helped change the public opinion of beauty.”
Siddal became most famous as the muse for Millais’s Ophelia. – WTF fun facts