Amy Rushton, Online Comment Editor, delves into her love for the Rossettis, the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the role of female art at this time
I usually try to squeeze as many art galleries and exhibitions into my time off Uni as possible. This year a packed summer has meant I haven’t yet had the chance to go to my dream exhibition (The Rossettis at Tate Britain), so I’ve found myself researching it instead, encountering a far more complicated and interesting side to the pre-Raphaelites than is usually portrayed.
Whilst commonly presented as a male-led movement- the Victorian group who rejected contemporary artistic ideals and instead promoted realism are known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood after all- female artists were at the centre of the movement. In particular, Elizabeth Siddal is often dismissed as a model and ‘muse’ for artists such as Millais and Rossetti, but she was an artist in her own right. Her artworks offer alternative outlooks on the usual Pre-Raphaelite medieval and romantic themes; despite being primarily self-taught she was the only female exhibitor at the pre-Raphaelite 1857 exhibition. However, Siddal’s most important work is not a medieval scene, but her own self-portrait. Whilst repeatedly portraited by her male peers, in her own portrait Siddal deviated from their romantic imagery in doing so performed an act of autonomy which was often denied to women of the period. Despite her suffering at the hands of other pre-Raphaelites, Siddal’s ability to forge her own representation makes her one of the most important, and overlooked, artists of the movement.