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News & Views

Celebrating Black Lives: Fanny Eaton

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

This month, we celebrate the life of Fanny Eaton (1835-1924), one of the most visible women of colour in Victorian Britain.

Mrs Eaton became an artist's model and muse to some of the most famous Victorian painters in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. She was born in Jamaica, the daughter of a formerly enslaved woman and (possibly) a slave owner. As a child, she and her mother travelled to London. She spent around ten years as a model. Her presence in Victorian art would have been unusual but it is a reminder of the thousands of people of colour who were living in the city at the time. Here, the poet Jackie Kay honours Eaton with a memory of coming across her portrait.

Born Fanny Matilda

In St Andrew Jamaica 1835

Daughter of a former slave

And former slave owner

Recorded as Mulatto. Mulatto!

You are The Jamaican Pre-Raphaelite Muse!

Mother of ten, widow, working class.

You are beautiful. Strong.

You turn the gaze around,

With your regal profile

Your fine head and figure

Your high cheekbones.

Your finely wrought nimbus of afro hair

You could have been out there

Never to be found, on the fringes of history

Here’s your grace, your poise

Right at this moment when I needed you

To walk down the long corridor

To climb up the endless stairs in the dark

Here in The Beloved, and again.’

Extract from ‘Fanny Eaton, the Pre-Raphaelite Jamaican Muse’

by Jackie Kay, courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Pencil study by Simeon Solomon

Fitzwilliam Museum

Each month we mark the significant life of a person of colour as a positive statement and a contribution to redressing historical imbalances in our society. More profiles.


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