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Joanna Boyce Wells, 1831–1861

Fanny Eaton [2016, YCBA]

Former Title(s):

Study of Fanny Eaton [2016, YCBA]

Head of a Mulatto Woman (Mrs. Eaton) [2008, YCBA]

Head of a mulatto woman [1901, Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhibition catalogue]

Oil on paper laid to linen
6 3/4 x 5 3/8 inches (17.1 x 13.7 cm), Frame: 13 3/4 × 12 1/2 × 1 1/2 inches (34.9 × 31.8 × 3.8 cm)

Signed and dated, upper left: "Joanna M Wells 1861"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
earrings | ethnicity | jewelry | model (person) | pearls | portrait | profile (figure) | queen (person) | shawl | shawls | woman
Associated People:
Eaton, Fanny (1835–1924), artist's model
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Joanna Wells studied painting in London and Paris. She belonged to the circle of the Pre-Raphaelites and exhibited to acclaim for the first time in 1851 when John Ruskin warmly admired her work. Fanny Eaton was a biracial model of Jamaican heritage who posed for Wells and other Victorian artists such as Albert Moore, Frederick Sandys, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This small study was made in the last year of her life as she prepared a large canvas of Zenobia, the ancient queen of Syria. She died in childbirth before she could complete it.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

This professional artists' model, Mrs. Eaton, was also drawn by the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti and by Albert Moore, Simeon Solomon, Frederick Sandys, and others. Despite heated debates about slavery and abolition in Britain during the nineteenth century, it seems that the issue of race was not raised publicly or even privately with respect to paintings of Mrs. Eaton in various historical or exotic guises. Both the ambiguity of Mrs. Eaton's ethnic identity-the title is the artist's, and "mulatto" was the contemporary term for a person of mixed race-and the fact that this picture was unsold at the artist's death and was apparently never exhibited during his lifetime, suggest that the artist may have been sensitive to its potentially controversial nature. However, it is known that the artist planned to employ the head of Mrs. Eaton in a planned historical portrayal of Zenobia, the magnificently defiant queen of ancient Palmyra.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2008

Art in Focus : Women at Yale (Yale Center for British Art, 2020-04-08 - 2020-08-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters (National Portrait Gallery, 2019-10-01 - 2020-01-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Black Figure in the European Imaginary (Cornell Fine Arts Museum, 2017-01-20 - 2017-05-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Figuring Women - The Female in Modern British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-03-28 - 2008-06-08) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Black Victorians - Black People in British Art 1800-1900 (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 2006-01-28 - 2006-04-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Black Victorians - Black People in British Art 1800-1900 (Manchester City Galleries, 2005-10-15 - 2006-01-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists (Southampton City Art Gallery, 1998-05-30 - 1998-08-02) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 1998-03-07 - 1998-05-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Alayo Akinkugbe, "Black muses: who are these neglected sitters?", ArtUK, 25 Aug 2020, https://artuk.org/discover/stories/black-muses-who-are-these-neglected-sitters [Website]

Susan P. Casteras, A Struggle for Fame: Victorian women artists and authors, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 1994, p. 52, pl. 5, N6796 C27 1994 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Adrienne L. Childs, Imagining Blacks in European art, Fine Art Connoisseur, 14 issue 2, Streamline, Boca Raton, Fla, p. 79, V 2837 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Adrienne L. Childs, The Black Figure in the European Imaginary, London; Winter Park, FL, 2017, p. 66, pl. 21, N8232 +C59 2017 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Matthew Hargraves, "Yale Center for British Art joins Art UK", ArtUK, 24 June 2019, Available online https://artuk.org/discover/stories/yale-center-for-british-art-joins-art-uk [Website]

Jan Marsh, Not Simply a Case of Princely Male Genius and Passive Cinerellas, Apollo, 190, London, November 2019, p. 30, N1 A54 (LC) Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, National Portrait Gallery Publications, London, England, p. 103, N6767.5.P7 M37 2019 (LC) Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 1, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Allen Staley, The New Painting of the 1860s, between the pre-raphaelites and the aesthetic movement , Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2011, pp. 92-93, 121, fig. 81, ND467 .S72 2011 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Diane Waggoner, The Pre-Raphaelite lens, British photography and painting, 1848-1875 , National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Farnham, Surrey [England], 2009, p. 139, fig. 7, N72 P5 W34 2010 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

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