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Fanny Eaton, the Jamaican-born model in Millais' Jephthah

Stephanie Roberts, 23 October 2014

Last month we were given a fascinating insight into the life of Fanny Eaton, one of the models for John Everett Millais’ Jephthah (1867), which is currently on display in our Art in Victorian Britain gallery. Fanny is the figure at the far right of the painting, standing just before a curtain and wearing a yellow hood.

We were delighted to hear from Brian Eaton, Fanny’s great-grandson, who came with his wife Mary to see the painting. They first became interested in Fanny while researching their family tree, and since then have done a considerable amount of research into her personal history.

At the same time curators and art historians have become increasingly fascinated by Fanny, particularly following the exhibition Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900 at Manchester and Birmingham Art Galleries in 2005-6, and the accompanying catalogue written by the show’s curator Jan Marsh.

Fanny was born in Jamaica in 1835 but by 1851 was working as a servant in London where she lived with her mother Matilda Foster. Within a few years had begun to model for several Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic artists including Frederick Sandys, Albert Moore and Rebecca Solomon, probably to earn extra income.  Her striking features made her a popular choice with 19th century artists. Dante Gabriel Rossetti compared her to the Pre-Raphaelite ‘stunner’ Jane Morris.

The earliest studies of Fanny that we know of are pencil studies drawn in 1859 by Simeon Solomon. These were used as studies for his Mother of Moses, now in the collection of Delaware Art Museum, US. When this painting was displayed in the Royal Academy in 1860, a reviewer for the Athenaeum thought her features represented 'an exagerated Jewish type’.1

This is one of the interesting things about Fanny. As Jan Marsh has pointed out in Black Victorians, although originally from Jamaica, she was described in her day as being of ‘mixed race’ and artists of the time used her distinctive features to represent a variety of different ethnicities or ‘types’. This is perhaps what attracted Millais to use her in Jephthah.

Jephthah seems to be the last painting to feature Fanny, although there may be more that are not yet identified. Brian and Mary Eaton are continuing with their research, and are particularly interested in finding out about Fanny’s early childhood in Jamaica and the circumstances that led to her moving to London with her mother.

We are grateful to Brian and Mary for sharing their findings, and hope that much more information about Fanny will come to light!

1. 19 May 1860, pages 688-90. Source: Simeon Solomon Research Archive

Stephanie Roberts

Senior Curator: Historic Art
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1 October 2016, 18:20
This is amazing to think that this women is in my family tree. Brian Eaton is my grandmothers brother. Fascinating
7 September 2016, 23:38

hi, I am interested in your Millais's beautiful painting JEPTHAH.
any information you can send me on it will be much appreciated.
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
29 September 2015, 11:51

Hi Emma

I checked and it may have been a technical fault on our side that has caused the delay. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience where this is concerned, I have asked again for your enquiry to be passed on, hopefully this will be resolved soon - I will keep in touch about any developments

Digital Team

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
28 September 2015, 09:36

Hi Emma

I passed on your email as promised. I will follow this up to see what the situation is.

All the best

Digital Team

Emma Le Blanc
26 September 2015, 16:32
Hi Sara,

How are you? I hope you are keeping very well!

Did you ever manage to contact the author of this post?

If you have I would really appreciate it if you could give him my email.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Many thank and Best wishes

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
23 June 2015, 14:41

Hi Emma,

Just got word back from the Art Dept - if you would like to send your enquiry through to Stephanie, the author of this blog, she will pass it on to Brian Eaton. You can contact Stephanie here

Thanks for your enquiry

Digital Team

Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
22 June 2015, 09:10

Hi Emma,

I will contact the author of the post and let her know about your enquiry.

Digital Team

Emma Le Blanc
21 June 2015, 15:58
I would like to get in touch with Brian Eaton as I am a student who has an interest in Fanny Eaton. If you can pass on my email to him I would be very grateful.
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