19 OCTOBER 2018

Photography Credit: Flickr/Creative Commons/Melody

Fanny Eaton (nee Antwistle) was born in 1835, Jamaica. The daughter of an ex-slave and a (presumed) white slave owner she made her way to London from Jamaica in the early 19th century, accompanied by her mother, eventually becoming a prominent sitter for the Pre-Raphaelites.

A few years after arriving in London, Fanny would meet and marry James Eaton, a horse-cab proprietor who was born on 17 February 1838 in Shoreditch. The couple had 10 children together. It was during this period that she began to model for the Pre-Raphaelites, in order to provide sustenance for her family.

Although a short lived tenure, Eaton would quickly build up a portfolio of sittings for prominent Pre-Raphaelite painters including John Millais, Simion and Rebecca Solomon, Joanna Boyce and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Her rapid success in the field can be in part attributed to her popularity amongst the Pre-Raphaelites, with Dante Gabiel Rosetti recorded as having praised Eaton for her ‘very fine head’, an unexpected comment in the context of the infamous Victorian beauty standards of the era.

The black Victorian Londoner’s career as a painter’s model would last a brief ten years, with Jepthah, by John Everett Millais, seemingly the last painting to feature Eaton. A later census found her working as a cook in the Isle of Wight at the age of 63. She would later return to London, her recorded death being at the age of 88 in Hammersmith and Fulham, London.

Despite the relative lack of recorded history of Eaton and her life, a symptom of a general erasure of black women from British history, in 2018 as part for the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, The Voice list Eaton alongside 7 other black women who have contributed to the development of Britain. She would grace the list alongside activists, politicians and changemakers, Kathleen Wrasama, Olive Morris, Connie mark, Diane Abbott, Lilian Bader, Margaret Busby and Mary Seacole.

What can you do to support this Black History Month?

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You can also read Fawcett's research on The Gender Pay Gap by Ethnicity to find out more about how the pay gap affects women of colour, and our Invisible Women report exploring how race, faith, ethnicity, age, disability, sexuality, location and employment status can combine with gender to create distinct and particularly troubling experiences of discrimination and inequality.