The supermodel did not arrive when Twiggy first donned false eyelashes; the concept began more than 100 years previously, with a young artists' model whose face captivated a generation. Saved from the drudgery of a working-class existence by a young Pre-Raphaelite artist, Lizzie Siddal rose to become one of the most famous faces in Victorian Britain and a pivotal figure of London's artistic world, until tragically ending her young life in a laudanum-soaked suicide in 1862. In the twenty-first century, even those who do not know her name always recognise her face: she is Millais's doomed Ophelia and Rossetti's beatified Beatrice. With many parallels in the modern-day world of art and fashion, this biography takes Lizzie from the background of Dante Rossetti's life and, finally, brings her to the forefront of her own.
This book traces the life of Lizzie Siddal, who, from her humble beginnings as a shop girl, became a central figure of the Pre-Raphaelite movement by the time she died at 32 from a self-inflicted overdose of opiates. Today, readers are used to stories of small-town hopefuls using modeling as a springboard to wider artistic success (think Marilyn Monroe or Andie MacDowell), but Siddal, Hawksley claims, was the first. As a model and then an artist in her own right, this remarkable woman crossed paths with some of Victorian England's greatest artistic luminaries, appearing in masterworks by Walter Deverell, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and supported by Ford Madox Brown and John Ruskin. Hawksley recounts Siddal's life in exhilarating and painful detail, providing a glimpse of the internal and external forces that contributed to her self-destruction. Because direct evidence is scant-few of Siddal's letters or prose writings survive-scholars have inferred a great deal from the words of others and Siddal's own paintings. In doing so, Hawksley sometimes overreaches, coming across less like a biographer than a conjectural psycholoanalyst; on the whole, however, her work on this important figure is solid, lively and lucid. Scholars of the period will find the book of great interest, as will those wishing to learn more about women in the Victorian art world or about the Pre-Raphaelites in general.