Mark Samuels Lasner wasn’t looking for a lock of Lizzie’s hair that day
in 2014. He had traveled to Vancouver to buy a particular photograph
from the collection of the late William Fredeman. Fredeman, a professor
of English at the University of British Columbia and a leading scholar
on the Pre-Raphaelite poets and painters, died in 1999.
An authority on the literature and art of the late Victorian era,
Samuels Lasner is an avid collector of such materials. In 2016, he
donated his 9,000-item collection of British literature and art to UD, a
gift worth more than $10 million.
During this trip to Canada, he was after a photograph of the highly
talented Rossetti family, showing the four children — Dante Gabriel,
Christina, Maria and William Michael — with their mother, Frances.
Dante, a poet, painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood, married Elizabeth Siddal in 1860.
The photograph Samuels Lasner wanted was taken by Lewis Carroll,
better known as the author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
But there was also an odd plastic album, lying in a nondescript part
of the floor-to-ceiling stash of Fredeman’s collection that filled two
storage units. It had translucent sleeves filled with letters and other
material that looked interesting, so Samuels Lasner negotiated a price
with Fredeman’s son, who was selling his father’s collection, and went
back to his hotel room with his purchases.
There, he examined the album carefully and saw something quite
unusual tucked into one of the sleeves — a plastic bag that held a lock
of hair and a manuscript note in the hand of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
“Lizzie’s hair February 1862.”
This, he knew, referred to Elizabeth Siddal.
“I spent the night not sleeping,” Samuels Lasner recalled. “It was
eerie, almost chilling to think I was in a room with perhaps the most
iconic hair in art history. People sort of knew Fredeman had the lock of
hair, but they had never seen it.”
Siddal was working in a hat shop when the Pre-Raphaelite painters
discovered her and her stunning hair. She had modeled for many of them
before marrying Rossetti in 1860.
One of the most famous portraits — “Ophelia,”
by Sir John Everett Millais — is a haunting and disturbing image of
Lizzie lying, hands slightly raised, mouth slightly open, in a pool of
water. She became seriously ill after that cold-water modeling job,
fully clothed, in a bathtub, historians have said.
Her marriage to Rossetti was brief. Siddal died two years later from
an overdose of laudanum, not long after the stillborn birth of their
child. It is not known for sure if this was an accidental death or
“Rossetti must have snipped off a lock of the famous hair before she was put into the casket,” Samuels Lasner said.
In his grief, Rossetti placed in Siddal’s casket the manuscript book
of his unpublished poetry. He later regretted that decision, Samuels
Lasner said, and seven years after her death he had her casket exhumed
in order to retrieve the manuscripts, which were included in Rossetti’s
“Poems,” published to acclaim and derision in 1870.
Proofs for “Poems,” related manuscripts and multiple copies of the
book are among the items Samuels Lasner donated to the University of
Delaware. The Mark Samuels Lasner Collection also holds an original
drawing by Elizabeth Siddal and one of her rare letters, along with a
pencil portrait of Siddal by Rossetti.
“Of all the places in the world that the lock of hair can be, Delaware is probably the right one,” he said.
Article by Beth Miller; photos by Evan Krape and Lara Kaplan; portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, used by permission of the Delaware Art Museum
Published Oct. 15, 2019