Ada Maud Jarvis, née Vesey-Dawson, was the daughter of an Irish barrister. In October 1876 she married the brewer and collector Lewis Page Jarvis. Together they had seven sons and several daughters.
According to Houfe, Whistler borrowed £50 from Lewis Jarvis in the summer of 1879 and agreed to paint the portrait of his wife, Ada. The portrait was started in the late summer and Whistler visited them at their country house at Blunham near Bedford in autumn 1879. Portrait of Mrs Lewis Jarvis (YMSM 206) was completed, framed and sent to Ada in September 1879. Whistler wrote to her, 'The little head ought to have been far away more charming - but I did my best at the time which I am afraid was very poor' (#09170).
Houfe, Simon, 'Whistler in the Country: His Unrecorded Friendship with Lewis Jarvis,' Apollo, vol. 98, no. 140, October 1973, pp. 282-285; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980.