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She Was The Sought-After Model Who Posed For One Of The Most Tragic Yet Iconic Paintings Of The Nineteenth Century, And She Even Became A Successful Artist Herself

kolotype - stock.adobe.com - illustrative purposes only

One of the most tragic yet beautiful paintings of the 19th century, one that’s gotten a resurgence of attention recently, is “Ophelia” by Sir John Everett Millais, which depicts the death of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

But did you know there was a model who posed for Sir John Everett Millais so he could create the iconic painting and that she was the most sought-after model of very prominent English artists?

That model was Elizabeth Siddal, who lived a tragic life yet inspired a lot of work from the Pre-Raphaelites, the famous secret society of young artists.

Elizabeth was born in London in 1829 and was interested in art at a young age. As she got older, she began working long hours in a hat shop, where she was by British artist Walter Howell Deverell, who began telling other artists about the beautiful woman he had met.

Walter was associated with a secret society of English artists, poets, and critics inspired to create works similar to Italian art from the Quattrocento period, a pre-Renaissance style of work with abundant detail.

After Elizabeth’s name had been passed around to different artists who were Pre-Raphaelites, she realized she had a lot of promise as a model. After sitting for Walter’s “Twelfth Night” painting, she posed for the “Ophelia” painting, which some would consider the most famous work of art she modeled for.

To paint “Ophelia” in 1852, Sir John Everett Millais had Elizabeth pose in a bathtub filled with water in the winter. He used oil lamps under the tub to keep Elizabeth warm, but they eventually went out, leaving Elizabeth to sit in a freezing cold tub of water.

However, Elizabeth did not say anything, and John was too invested in his painting to notice, so they followed through with the session. By the time John was finished, Elizabeth had developed pneumonia and became very ill.

During this time, Elizabeth began taking opium drops called laudanum to ease her pain. She became quite sought-after as a model by other Pre-Raphaelite artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After posing for him several times, they entered a relationship. In the 1850s, Elizabeth began studying under Dante and learned to paint. She also began to write her own poetry.

kolotype – stock.adobe.com – illustrative purposes only

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