Last week I introduced you to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the “face” of the Pre-Raphaelites, the very first supermodel, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Siddal.
John Ruskin was a staunch supporter of Siddal. He was a well known British art critic and social thinker, also remembered as an author, poet and artist. His essays on art and architecture were extremely influential in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The Pre-Raphaelites were influenced by Ruskin's theories. As a result, the critic wrote letters to The Times defending their work, which led to their art finally being accepted in Victorian art circles.
In 1855 Ruskin became Lizzie Siddal’s financial supporter as she struggled to be recognized as an artist and poet. Ruskin paid £150 per year in exchange for all drawings and paintings that she produced. Siddal produced many sketches but only a single painting. Her sketches are laid out in a fashion similar to Pre-Raphaelite compositions and tend to illustrate Arthurian legend and other idealized medieval themes. During this period Siddal also began to write poetry, often with dark themes about lost love or the impossibility of true love.
Siddal suffered from a ‘mysterious illness’, which is now believed to have been an addiction to laudanum. It was to prove to be her downfall.
Laudanum was a mixture of opium and alcohol. It was not dispensed by prescription, and was widely accepted as a ‘cure all’, similar to how aspirin is viewed today. One could purchase laudanum from a barber, a grocer, or at market stalls. It was touted to address symptoms of alcoholism, bedwetting, coughs and colds, insanity, morning sickness, nervous tension, muscle fatigue, toothache and was sold to mothers to soothe their babies. One can see where it would be easy to become addicted to laudanum.
As an aside, there were many who were dependent on “tincture of opium” – such notables as Walter Scott, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.