Fanny Eaton
Fanny Eaton

Fanny Eaton

Long before models such as Naomi Sims, Iman and Naomi Campbell came to international fame, there was Fanny Eaton, the world’s first Black “Super Model”.

Fanny Mathilda Entwhistle, later Eaton, was born in Jamaica in 1835, two years after the slave trade was abolished throughout the British empire. She grew up during a time when women of colour were not considered to be as beautiful as their white peers, and it would have been rare to see them centre stage in Western art. All that would soon change with the arrival of Fanny Entwhistle in London when she accompanied her mother during the 1840s.

Fanny initially worked as a domestic worker and a seamstress before meeting and settling down in 1857 with James Eaton, a horse-drawn cab proprietor. By 1859, now a young mother and approaching her mid-20s, Fanny sought to supplement the family’s income by modelling for the Royal Academy of Arts in Central London.

Her afro-textured hair and distinctive mixed-race features made her an irresistible subject for artists such as Simeon Solomon, Edwin Long, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and many other Pre-Raphaelite artists. She became their mysterious muse between 1859 and 1865, and she went on to become the most-painted Black female subject on earth.

Despite her growing success as a model, Fanny’s family life also flourished. She and James went on to have 10 children, a testament to their love and commitment. As her family grew, Fanny made the difficult decision to retire from modelling, dedicating herself to the care of her children. Although the Eaton family lived in various parts of the capital, they resided mainly in West London, where she died aged 88 at 2a Bassein Park Road, now part of the London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.

On 26th November 2022, the Nubian Jak Community Trust, in partnership with Hammersmith & Fulham Council, Kite Studios, and in association with Havas London, unveiled a blue plaque to Fanny Eaton, commemorating a woman who inadvertently helped change notions of beauty in Western Europe.

Location: 2a Bassein Park Road, London, W12, 9RY

“I am so proud that, at long last, my great-grandmother is to be recognised. She has changed my life in so many ways since we first discovered her in the 1881 census. There will also be a proper headstone later on her grave that will finally put her in her rightful place in history.” Brian Eaton – Great Grandson of Fanny Eaton

“When paintbrushes were the original photographic lenses, one woman did more than anyone in the Western hemisphere to re-evaluate the notion of what it was to be beautiful. That woman was Fanny Eaton.” Dr Jak Beula – CEO of Nubian Jak Community Trust