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
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.