Fanny Eaton

Fanny Eaton [1835 - 1924]

Fanny Mathilda Eaton was born Fanny Antwistle in St Andrew, Jamaica, the daughter of Matilda Foster, a formerly enslaved woman. Matilda and Fanny made their way to London in the 1840s.

In 1857 Fanny married James Eaton, a horse-cab proprietor, and raised ten children. Eaton had worked as a charlady, cleaner, and later a seamstress, but during her 20s, she had found another way of making money. Her thick, kinky hair and “exotic” mixed-race features made her an irresistible model for artists such as Simeon Solomon, Edwin Long John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and many other Pre-Raphaelite artists. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a leader in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, likened Fanny Eaton to the Pre-Raphaelite model Jane Morris.

Morris was the original Pre-Raphaelite model that embodied the aesthetic artists hoped to capture in their paintings. Fanny Eaton’s public debut was in Simeon Solomon’s The Mother of Moses, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860. It is thought that she was the model for The Slave by William Blake Richmond (1886), which is today found in the Tate. In addition, Eaton’s likeness hangs today in the British Museum, the Yale Centre for British Art and the Princeton Museum of Art, among others.

Despite Eaton’s appearance in paintings and Pre-Raphaelite art in Victorian society and her subtle challenge to societal expectations of Black women, Fanny spent the final working years of her life as a domestic cook on the Isle of Wight for a wine merchant and his wife, John and Fanny Hall. By 1911, widowed Fanny was residing with family in Hammersmith, London, with her daughter Julia, son-in-law Thomas Powell and grandchildren Baden and Connie Powell.

She died in Acton on 4 March 1924 at the age of 89.

Location: Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair