Art & herstory: clarifying the haze
I am working on a series of paintings depicting women artist’s of the past. This has been fascinating, as often their stories have a heroic element: overcoming adversity, subversion, heartache and discouragement and yet still persevering with and finding meaning, joy and solace in their artwork.
This painting (pictured above)is my version of Elizabeth Siddal. I wanted to pull her from the past into my own dreamscape world, hence the whimsical background…depicting the trees red-orange seemed an apt way to represent her famous hair colour, since I limited myself to painting her in black and white.
Elizabeth Siddal has been remembered in history as the artists’ model and muse for pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante’ Rossetti. Lizzie was engaged to Dante’ on and off for over a decade; not surprisingly their relationship was a tumultuous one. She is famous for her appearance in John Millais’ painting, ‘Ophelia’, where she posed in a bath tub for hours at a time so that Millais could capture the effect of fabric on water. Spending so much time sitting in tepid water caused her to eventually fall ill.
Whatever her talents as an artists’ model, it is her own identity as a painter and poet that has often been overlooked. I personally do not read much poetry, and I doubt whether I am very skilled at interpreting its nuances; however, I find Siddal’s poetry honest, heartbreaking, yet at the same time full of hope. Her paintings (see example right), like that of the other Pre-Raphaelite artists are full of story and metaphor, much like her writing.
The following poem by Lizzie Siddal fits well with the theme of my painting, and gives us a hint of who she was; a person who lived and loved as fully as she grieved her many losses.
O Silent Wood
O silent wood, I enter thee
With a heart so full of misery
For all the voices from the trees
And the ferns that cling about my knees.
In thy darkest shadow let me sit
When the grey owls about thee flit;
There will I ask of thee a boon,
That I may not faint or die or swoon.
Gazing through the gloom like one
Whose life and hopes are also done,
Frozen like a thing of stone
I sit in thy shadow – but not alone.
Can God bring back the day when we two stood
Beneath the clinging trees in that dark wood?