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The Lost Pre-Raphaelite Model

From the Barwicker No.110
June 2013

With an update in Barwicker No.118 of June 2105

Solomon, Simeon; draughtsman; British artist, 1840-1905

©Fitzwilliam Museum Image Library

We are extremely grateful to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for allowing us to use a copy of this image in the June 2013 edition of The Barwicker. However as the image is copyrighted we would ask if you wish to obtain a copy for yourself please log onto the following web link and do not take the image from above.

My husband and I have been researching our family trees for many years. Before computers made it easier to find ancestors we visited various archive/record offices, libraries, churches, graveyards following may trails. Leeds Family Resource Centre Library has been particularly helpful.

Many families have stories of special ancestors, often stories are passed down through the generations but no-body had any significant information. So were the stories of a Native American squaw in the family or even an Indian Princess true?

When the 1881 census was first released on disk we discovered a Fanny Matilda Eaton living in London but born in Jamaica. Since then we have tried to trace her back through the Jamaican Archives (expensive and unsuccessful!) and many helpful people. We even had a three-day visit to the Latter Day Saints' Centre in South Kensington, London, to search their comprehensive Jamaican records - unsuccessfully. We were so engrossed with Fanny that when we went out for the usual evening meal, after spending all day at the Centre, we hadn't realised it was February 14th and only just managed to find a table not already occupied by St Valentine couples!

We had almost lost faith in ever finding out any more about Fanny, particularly as she was born in 1835 just before slavery was finally abolished in 1837. She could have been an illegitimate child from a plantation affair of a servant's daughter coming back to England or even a soldier's child. We now knew an awful lot about 19th Century Jamaica but nothing more about Fanny.

We reluctantly put Fanny' origins to one side and investigated the various census returns as they were released or computerised. Fanny was a hard-working mother of 10 children, widowed at 43. She is described in the various census as laundress, charwoman and seamstress. Her husband was a horse cab proprietor in London. When she was 65 she is recorded as working as a cook/housekeeper for a family on the Isle of Wight. She died aged 88 in Acton, London in 1924.

In 2010 there was a conference in London concerning how coloured women were exploited in the past. Various people, either because of the conference or the interest it had generated, began to gather more information. One of the women mentioned was Fanny Matilda Eaton, our ancestor! She was a model for a group of painters known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of like minded artists trying to recapture the classic style of painting. Fanny was working as a cleaner at the time, we do not yet know exactly where but she and most of the artists lived and worked in the same areas of London. She may have been spotted by one of the artists or their friends and persuaded to model for them. One of the best-known artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is quoted as saying that 'Mrs Eaton has a very fine head and figure'1 The results of their work can be seen in galleries all over the world. We had hoped that one day we might find out a bit more about Fanny but never did we imagine that we would see her actual image as painted by famous artists. She is no longer lost!

Update published in Barwicker No. 118

Since my article in June 2014 about Fanny Eaton, the pre-Raphaelite model(above), we have continued the research into the history of Fanny Matilda Eaton, my husband's great Grandmother. We have come across some interesting facts, previously unknown, which we thought would conclude my previous article.

You may recall Fanny Eaton was a model for a group of artists in London in the 1860s known as the Pre-Raphaelites. We have now discovered that far from being just a casual model for them she was actually employed as a model by the Royal Academy for their life classes! We have the records of payments she received from their Petty Cash Accounts:

Date No. of sittings Amount Received
£ s
13 July 1860 3 0 15
06 Oct 1865 3 0 15
13 Oct 1865 2 0 10
18 Nov 1874 12 4 16
10 July 1875 12 2 8*
09 Feb 1877 6 2 8
22 Jan 1879 8 3 4
31 Jan 1879 12 4 16

* The entry for 1875 could be an accounting error as she appears to have only received half her due money.

Various calculations give the equivalent value today as being between £46 and £63 per £1. As Fanny appears to have been paid at least 5 shillings per session (reduced for more sittings for some reason) that would equate to between £10 and £15 today. That may seem low but as she had no skills was probably a great deal of money for her especially with so many children to support. (Her husband was a cab proprietor which was a hard competitive life).

Each month more drawings and painting are coming to light. They are mainly Biblical or classical scenes as this is what the Victorians were fascinated by - hence the popularity of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Fanny had a beautiful classic profile as can be seen in many of the paintings. A recent discovery by Rupert Maas (the BBC Antiques Roadshow art expert) shows her looking very wistful by a previously unacknowledged artist, Waiter Fryer Stocks. The drawing is in the Maas Gallery in London and we have been to see it. It is for sale but out of our range!

An article has also just been published in the PRS Review (the journal of the Pre-Raphaelite Society - Volume XXII, Number 2, Summer 2014) which gives the story of Fanny as a model and as a mother.

Brian is very proud of his great Grandmother who had risen from a very poor beginning as a child of an ex-slave born on a Jamaican plantation to become a hard working mother of ten children in a society where there was plenty of racism and prejudice.

(1) W E Fredeman. The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Cambridge 2002
(2)Stella Halliwell website 'Fanny Eaton, The Forgotten Pre-Raphaelite Model"
(3) Paintings: Simeon Solomon, Portrait of Fanny Eaton (pencil 7 x ¼"). Signed with monogram and dated 2/10/60 (Fitzwilliam Museum,Cambridge).
(4) Simeon Solomon research Archive by Roberto C Ferrari and Carolyn Conroy. Pub. 28 Feb 2010
(5)Joanna Mary Wells-The Head of Mrs Eaton, 1861 (now in a USA museum).

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