The drawing illustrates Tennyson's poem 'St Agnes' Eve', first published in The Keepsake in 1836, which describes the feelings of a novice in a convent longing for union with God. On a winter night she gazes out of a window, where
Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes:
May my soul follow soon!
The drawing is illustrated in Jan Marsh's catalogue of the Siddal exhibition held at Sheffield in 1991, but from one of the glass negatives of the artist's work held by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The drawing itself, the text implies, was missing ('known only from a photograph'). It is further stated that the composition was 'intended for woodblock illustration and probably begun in 1855.' This would make it slightly earlier than the wood-engraving of the subject by John Everett Millais, published in the famous Moxon edition of Tennyson's poems in 1857.
The 1991 catalogue lists four other versions of Siddal's design. At that date at any rate a watercolour was on loan from a private collection to Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton (1991 cat., no. 35). On Siddal's death in 1862 the picture became the possession of her husband, D.G. Rossetti, and when he died twenty years later it was selected by his sister, Christina, as 'her favourite among EES's available works'. It passed in turn to William Michael Rossetti when Christina died in 1894.
The other versions are, like our drawing, pen and ink studies. One is in the Ashmolean Museum (1991 cat., no. 34, illustrated). A second is in the British Museum (see J.A. Gere, Pre-Raphaelite Drawings in the British Museum, exh. 1994, cat. pp. 135-6, no. 109b, illustrated). The third is in the Bottomley Bequest at Carlisle Art Gallery (see Gordon Bottomley: Poet and Collector, Carlisle Art Gallery booklet, n.d., p. 11, no. 18.).