PALE AS THE DEAD - BEHIND THE SCENES
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in 1848 by a group of rebellious young artists led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, Millais and Ford Maddox Brown. Their luminously haunting style of painting paid great attention to naturalistic detail and looked back to the romance of medieval chivalry. Scenes were inspired by the supernatural, Shakespeare, mythology and legend.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was closely connected to the Cotswolds and Oxford. Oxford may be said to be the spiritual home of the Brotherhood. It was in the Oxford Union they attempted to paint murals on the walls. William Morris, one of the Pre-Raphaelite's most important patrons, discovered Rossetti's art whilst he was an undergraduate at Exeter College.
Later, Morris and Rossetti rented Kelmscott Manor, an Elizabethan Manor in the village of Kelmscott at the South-West corner of Oxfordshire. Here Rossetti's love blossomed for Morris's wife Jane and the couple escaped the public gaze to wander alone in the summer water-meadows
Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, Lizzie, is an elusive historical figure whose beauty and tragic, romantic life have made her into a legend with enduring appeal.
Countless books and articles have been written about her; her image is universally known and has almost become part of popular culture, the face in the famous and romantic paintings adorning posters, greetings cards, pop album covers and T-shirt
Yet very little is know of her life, her death is shrouded in mystery and she is perhaps best known for the macabre, now almost mythical story of the exhumation of her coffin from Highgate Cemetery. Her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, overcome by grief and guilt, placed in her coffin his manuscript poems, which she had loved. But six years later he decided he wanted to publish the poems and agreed to an exhumation. A canopy was set up over the grave, a bonfire lit to provide light, and the coffin was lifted. Rossetti did not attend the exhumation but five of his friends did, one of who later described how, when the coffin was opened, Lizzie's face was still as beautiful as ever and her famed red hair shone in the firelight.
Two years after marrying Rossetti, Lizzie died from an overdose of laudanum. Whether her death was accidental or by her own hand has long been cause for conjecture. It has been suggested by many that she left a letter, which was suppressed for the sake of propriety. It was vehemently denied at the time but rumours of a lost suicide note persist.
For two years Rossetti was said to see Lizzie's ghost every night and invoked her spirit at seance.’ Evelyn Waugh, who had family connections with the Pre-Raphaelite circle, wrote that Lizzie 'took her own life, leaving beside her bed a letter for Rossetti reproaching him for his cruelty towards her'. In any case, Rossetti suffered guilt for Lizzie's death. He left strict instructions that he was on no account to be buried at Highgate (an unusual request since the rest of his family lie there).