Two thumbs up to BTG fan Carl Funk who reminded me about one of Highgate’s most important residents, Elizabeth Siddal.
Elizabeth’s the one who helped inspire the dreamy, gorgeously flowing paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and most of us are probably familiar with her via Sir John Everett Millais (she was his inspiration for his Ophelia painting).
She was also the primary muse for poet and artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who later married her.
The story behind the famous Ophelia painting goes something like this: “While posing for Millais’ Ophelia in 1852, Siddal floated in a bathtub full of water to represent the drowning Ophelia. Millais painted daily into the winter putting lamps under the tub to warm the water. On one occasion the lamps went out and the water became icy cold. Millais, absorbed by his painting, did not notice and Siddal did not complain. After this she became very ill with either a severe cold or pneumonia.”
The other story that haunts Elizabeth is the vampire myth.
After dying from an overdose of laudanum (an opium mixture) in 1862, she was buried in Highgate Cemetery. Rossetti was so distraught, he slid the only existing copy of his poems into her coffin to be buried with her.
Respectfully borrowed from Snovits Apple
By 1869, Rossetti had stopped painting and began focusing on his poetry. However, he became obsessed with retrieving his original poems from his wife’s coffin and after finally obtaining permission, he had her coffin exhumed and the book of poetry removed.
Interestingly enough, the exhumers found Elizabeth’s body was so well-preserved (complete with long, flowing red hair that filled the coffin) after having died 7 years earlier, it gave rise to the rumor that she was a vampire.
It’s assumed that her long-term addiction to laudanum is most likely the reason for her body remaining intact for so long.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get any photos of her grave when I last visited Highgate as the site’s apparently now off-limits to visitors. However, I did find some wonderful photos over at the Snovits Apple blog and I do hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed one of them to share with you all.
Speaking of sharing, check out Carl’s song, The Angel of Swain’s Lane, a wonderful, Bob Dylan-esque song that pays tribute to Elizabeth Siddal.