Phenomenal Woman: Fanny Eaton

Fanny Eaton was a Jamaican born woman who became an inspiration for artists during the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Era of 1848.


Born in 1835, Eaton left Jamaica for England in the 1940s with her mother after the abolishment of the Slave Trade. She was of mixed heritage and was one, if not the first, recorded solo subjects of a piece of art like this.

Eaton defied all trends of the era as she was a Black woman who was painted in a positive light, and not in the way that many Black people had been portrayed as being in literature and art during the Victorian Era.

fanny eaton profile

The artists who saw Eaton as a muse were sure to highlight her strong features, which weren’t Eurocentric at all. Traditional works of art during this era would have featured porcelain skin and angular faces. But Eaton smashed this ideal muse and became one of the most exciting inspirations to be embraced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Various artists painted Eaton during her time as a muse; in works of art, she is made to look powerful and in control. In the work of Albert Joseph Moore, Eaton is depicted as the mother of a military commander. In a portrait completed by Johanna Mary Wells, she is depicted wearing beautiful jewellery and decadent fabric.

Boyce, Joanna, 1831-1861; Fanny Eaton
Fanny Eaton (1861) Johanna Mary Wells

Fanny Eaton’s engagement in the art world during the Victorian Era challenged the beauty standards set by white people at the time. After her death in 1924, scholars and artists overlooked the Black Victorian movement in the art world, but as we enter the 21st century, more people began to understand the importance of analyzing Black people in pre-21st century art.

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