You may not have heard of Fanny Eaton but, if you are an admirer of the works of the Pre-Raphaelites, you may have seen her without realising. She is the forgotten model, though she was used by many artists of the time and admired by them.
Fanny Eaton was born in Jamaica in 1835. Her mother, Matilda Foster, came to London at some point with her daughter. Her father was not named on the birth register and so Fanny was probably illegitimate. Her mother was black, likely an ex-slave, and it is suspected that her father was white as Fanny was often referred to as being of mixed race.
By 1851 Fanny was working as a servant in London. She married and went on to have ten children. Understandably, a career as a charwoman did not bring in much money for so many mouths. Her work as a model would have been a great help towards the survival of her family. The artist Simeon Solomon drew her first in 1859, sketching her in preparation for his Mother of Moses. It is thought that she became so popular as a model because of her mixed race and unusual features. She was used to represent a variety of different ethnicities, a uniqueness that the generic models could not provide.
Fanny modelled for around eight years, for eminent artists of the period such as Frederick Sandys, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and John Everett Millais. It is thought that the last painting she at for was Millais’ Jephthah (1867) which is pictured below. Fanny is the woman at the far right hand side with the yellow hood.
After Fanny was widowed she moved to the Isle of Wight for some years where she continued to work as a servant. She returned to London some time before her death in 1924 at the age of eighty-nine.