It was Nov. 18, 1835 when Fanny Entwistle, more commonly known by her married name of Eaton, was born in Jamaica. Little did her parents know that she was destined to impact the world of art, change the perception of beauty in the Victorian era, and become the first black supermodel. She was honored 185 years after her birth with a Google Doodle on Nov. 18, 2020.
Eaton was born to a Jamaican mother, Matilda Foster, who was of African descent. Her father was Caucasian, but little is known about him. Many have speculated that he was most likely a soldier. Eaton’s mother was freed when slavery was abolished in British colonies in 1834. The mother and child immigrated to London in the 1840s.
Paintings and drawings of Eaton reside in collections and galleries in the UK, Wales, and around the world. Eaton came to the notice of the art world when artist Simeon Solomon featured her in his painting The Mother Moses.
Eaton worked as a cook, charwoman, and model to augment her income. She began modeling at the age of 20 at London’s prestigious Royal Academy and enjoyed a successful career in the field for 10 years. Eaton became a favorite subject of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and figured prominently in paintings by member artists Joanna Mary Boyce, John Everett Millais, and Gabriel Rossetti.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood promoted Eaton as a new example of ideal beauty, a radical concept at the time. When Black people were included in drawings and paintings of the day, it was typically as a background element. The artists utilized Eaton’s distinctive features to represent a myriad of ethnicities and Biblical characters.
She married James Eaton in 1857 and they had 10 children. He was a driver and owner of a horse-cab service, born in the Shoreditch district of London on Feb. 17, 1838. Eaton was a widow by 1881 and was working as a seamstress. She was also a cook for a Portsea-based wine merchant, John Hall, and his wife Fanny, on the Isle of Wight.
In 1911, she’s found living with daughter and son-in-law, Julia and Thomas Powell, along with grandchildren Baden and Connie. Fanny Eaton died in the Acton area of London on March 4, 1924 at the age of 88. The cause of death was “senile decay and syncope.” She’s buried in Margravine Road Cemetery in Hammersmith.
Eaton has been prominently featured in a variety of commemoration events that includes the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, and in the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters art exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery. Eaton was highlighted on the BBC Radio 1 art history short, to mark Black History Month in 2020, the Google Doodle in 2020, and was immortalized in a poem by Maz Hedgehog in 2020.
Photo: Google Doodles