The eye-catching model featured on a recent Google Doodle is Fanny Eaton, inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite artists and a former Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush resident.
She posed in the 1860s for a string of leading British artists; her striking looks helping to define the standards of beauty in the Victorian era.
Moved to London
Born Fanny Matilda Antwistle in Jamaica in 1835 (her father isn’t recorded, but may have been a British soldier stationed in the Caribbean), she came to London as a child with her mother Matilda, a former slave, and they settled in St Pancras.
At 22, Fanny married 19-year-old horse-drawn cabbie James Eaton, their wedding in 1857 being a rare example at the time of an inter-racial marriage. The couple had 10 children before James’ untimely death at 43, from blood poisoning.
She began modelling to raise money for the family, with artists including John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti being struck by her beauty and portraying her in paintings over an eight-year span, in works of art which now hang in galleries around the world.
Rossetti described her, in a letter to fellow artist Ford Madox Brown, as “having a very fine head and figure”. In portraits she is shown with a serious expression and distant, faraway look in her eyes... typical of the Pre-Raphaelite painters.
The Royal Academy in Piccadilly employed her for a while as a sitter, paying her five shillings (25p) a session. The RA later also employed one of her daughters as an artists’ model.
By the 1870s, the family – Fanny and seven of her children – were sharing rooms in a house in Lancaster Road, Notting Hill, but they then moved to 36 Woodstock Grove, Shepherds Bush... a five-minute walk from the Green.
In later life, with the children grown-up (and one working as a sculptor’s assistant, keeping up the artistic connection), Fanny became a cook for a Hammersmith family in their second home on the Isle of Wight.
Eventually she returned to west London in around 1911, and worked as a seamstress, sharing a house in Hammersmith with one of her daughters, and helping to raise two of her grandchildren.
She died in March 1924, just after her 89th birthday, and is buried in Margravine Cemetery.
She appeared in the list, compiled by The Voice newspaper in 2018 to mark the centenary of women getting the vote, of the eight most influential black women in British history, alongside Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole and London politician Diane Abbott.
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