March 24, 2023 12:00 PM to 1:00 PMUptown Campus
Title: Seeing Double: Fanny Eaton and the Specter of Blackness in Simeon Solomon’s Mother of Moses
Bio: Mia L. Bagneris is Associate Professor of Art History and Africana Studies and Director of the Africana Studies Program at Tulane University. Her scholarship focuses on 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. She is the author of Colouring the Caribbean: Race & the Art of Agostino Brunias and co-author, with Anna Arabindan-Kesson, of Reframing “Black Art”: Case Studies in Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture (forthcoming from Routledge, 2023) and is currently at work on a third book project, Imagining the Oriental South: The Enslaved Mixed-Race Beauty in British Art Culture, 1865-1900.
Abstract: In 1860, Pre-Raphaelite-affiliated artist Simeon Solomon exhibited The Mother of Moses at the Royal Academy, garnering generally very positive notice. However, nearly every reviewer called attention to the decidedly “ethnic” features of Moses’s mother and sister in the picture, agreeing that there was something “off” about them, but as to their specific defect—too Jewish, too Egyptian, or just plain too dark—failing to reach consensus. What no critic would just come right out and say was that Fanny Eaton, the model whose face represented both women in the painting, was, for their tastes, just too Black. Eaton’s ostensibly racially ambiguous appearance meant that artists had previously cast her as a variety of ethnic “Others” (and, arguably never as her own Afro-Caribbean self). However, this talk contends that, within the context of a picture that was ultimately about slavery, liberation, and diaspora, Eaton’s Blackness did not prove so fungible, and the patina of portraiture that pervaded her presence in the picture informed the way in which viewers received the work.