Fanny Eaton: why a Google Doodle is celebrating the Jamaican-born Pre-Raphaelite artist's model who was exhibited at the Royal Academy

Fanny Eaton provided inspiration for painters and artists seeking inspiration in representing BAME individuals in their works

Wednesday, 18th November 2020, 10:41 am

Today’s (18 November) Google Doodle celebrates Fanny Eaton, a Jamaican-born model who provided inspiration for painters and artists throughout the Pre-Raphaelite period.

Here is everything you need to know about her.

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Walter Fryer Stocks' 1859 pencil study of Fanny Eaton, now on display at the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey (Image: Princeton University Art Museum)

Who was Fanny Eaton?

Born Fanny Antwistle in June 1835, Eaton moved from Jamaica with her mother (no father was named on her birth records, suggesting illegitimacy) to England sometime in the 1840s.

The first recorded instance of her living in London comes in 1851, when Eaton began working as a domestic servant. Six years later, she married horse-cab proprietor and driver James Eaton while in her early 20s.

The couple had 10 children together.

Google's 18 November Doodle, depicting Jamaican-born artist's model, Fanny Eaton (Image: Google)

How did she begin modelling?

Around the same time, Eaton began modelling for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a collective of English painters, poets, and art critics first founded in 1848.

Her move into modelling was fuelled out of necessity more than anything, and the Eatons were in desperate need for money to feed their dectuple of children

Work was not hard to come by for Fanny however, whose distinctive features were sought after by artists seeking inspiration in portraying characters of varying ethnicities.

The first known studies of Eaton include pencil sketches by British painter Simeon Solomon, which would form the basis for Solomon's ‘Mother of Moses’ painting. This work was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1860, marking Fanny’s ‘public’ debut.

Throughout her career, Eaton featured in a number of high-profile Pre-Raphaelite artworks, including 1865’s ‘The Beloved’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Everett Millais’ 1867 painting, ‘Jephthah’.

Her involvement with the Pre-Raphaelites helped move forward the representation of BAME individuals in the arts, who at the time were often negatively represented in Victorian art and culture.

The group held Eaton up as a model of ideal beauty and featured her centrally.

How did she die?

Eaton was unfortunately widowed in 1881, and lived out the rest of her years alone, having moved on from the art world.

She took on a number of odd jobs, including work as a seamstress, and in the final few years of her working life was serving as a domestic cook on the Isle of Wight.

In the 1900s, historical accounts place Eaton back in London, where she is thought to have lived with her remaining family, including her daughter Julia and son-in-law Thomas Powell.

Eaton died in Acton on 4 March 1924 at the age of 88. The cause of her death was senility and syncope, a loss of consciousness caused by decreased blood flow to the brain.

Who designed today’s Doodle?

Today’s Doodle was designed by artist Sophie Diao, who wanted to focus on Eaton’s “remarkable profile”, as so many studies have done in the past.

Diao cites a study of Eaton by British painter Joanna Boyce Wells’ as inspiration, though unlike Wells’ study, the artist “opted to leave her hair and ears unadorned as though she were sitting casually in the artist’s studio.

"The colour palette and flowers were drawn from the intense, dramatic lushness that marks the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites,” she says.