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Seeing Double: Fanny Eaton and the Specter of Blackness in Simeon Solomon’s Mother of Moses

05.18.2023 04:30 PM – 05.18.2023 07:00 PM

Event Summary

Detail of Simeon Solomon's 'The Mother of Moses'

In 1860, Pre-Raphaelite-affiliated artist Simeon Solomon exhibited The Mother of Moses at the Royal Academy. The work garnered generally positive feedback; however, nearly every reviewer called attention to the decidedly “ethnic” features of Moses’s mother and sister in the picture. They all agreed that there was something “off” about them, but as to their specific defect—too Jewish, too Egyptian, or just plain too dark—there was no consensus. What no critic would just come right out and say was that Fanny Eaton, the Afro-Jamaican model whose face represented both women in the painting, was, for their tastes, just too Black. The mixed-race Eaton’s ostensibly racially ambiguous appearance meant that artists had previously cast her as a variety of ethnic “Others.” However, this talk contended that, within the context of a picture that was ultimately about slavery, liberation, and diaspora, Eaton’s Blackness—and the realities of British involvement in Atlantic World slavery that it embodied—did not prove so fungible, and informed the way viewers received the work.


Mia L. Bagneris is Associate Professor of African Diaspora Art and Studies of Race in Western Art, and Director of the Africana Studies Program, at Tulane University. Much of her scholarship explores the representation of race in the Anglo-American world and the place of images in the histories of slavery, colonialism, empire, and the construction of national identities. Her 2018 monograph, Colouring the Caribbean: Race and the art of Agostino Brunias, offers the first comprehensive study of the artist’s pictures, which were made for British plantocrats and colonial elites and feature Caribbeans of color—so called “Red” and “Black” Carib Indians, dark-skinned Africans and Afro-Creoles, and people of mixed race.

Sponsored by the Slavery and Visual Culture project at the Neubauer Collegium.