A Black Victorian Painters' Model, Nearly Lost To History

Fanny Eaton prepares to entrust her newborn baby, Moses, to the Nile
Shonda Buchanan
October 29, 2020

Beautiful Fanny Eaton sat perfectly still in the cold room as the white man painted her – but she had no idea how he would use her image.

A Jamaican immigrant, she modeled because she had TEN children at home and had to supplement her meager income. 

She worked her fingers to the bone as a domestic servant, so the few pennies given by artists, who declared her Black bone structure was perfect for their art, helped a little. She’d get more than just pennies if the paintings sold, though, right?

No – because she was Black! To the white art world, her humanity was obsolete. Still, she kept her head high despite her poverty; she’d do what she had to do to take care of her kids, no matter what racists thought of her.

But what happened to the portraits?

The white painters became famous and made millions from them, but Eaton never received substantial compensation – and her identity was nearly lost to history. 

Eaton became one of the most recognizable, but nearly forgotten, muses of the 18th century. 

Whites will always attempt to profit from and appropriate our beauty and our culture – but we don’t need anyone to tell us how beautiful we are! How are you maintaining your self-respect and protecting your beautiful Black essence in the face of white supremacy?

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