Elinor 'Baby' Leyland was the youngest daughter of the Liverpool ship owner Frederick Richards Leyland and his wife Frances (née Dawson), who married in 1855 and separated in 1879. She had three siblings, Frederick Dawson, Fanny and Florence. In 1889 she married Francis Elmer Speed, a stockbroker. They had several children.
F. R. Leyland commissioned portraits from Whistler of all his four children, but Elinor was Whistler's favourite subject. He wrote to her mother 'how delighted I was to see again the lovely Babs - really that child is exasperatingly lovely' (#08051). Whistler painted Elinor in the early 1870s in a blue cashmere and velvet dress, The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland (YMSM 111), a composition inspired possibly by Thomas Gainsborough's Blue Boy. He also made a portrait in drypoint of Elinor around 1873, Elinor Leyland (K.109). From 1873 to 1879 Whistler made a number of drawings of Elinor in chalk, pastel and ink, including Elinor Leyland seated (M.510), Elinor Leyland (M.511), Baby Leyland (M.512), Elinor Leyland seated reading (M.513), Elinor Leyland (M.514), Elinor Leyland seated with a dog (M.515), Studies of Baby Leyland (M.516), Study for a portrait of Baby Leyland (M.517), Elinor Leyland (M.518), Study for 'The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland' (M.519), r.: The Blue Girl; v.: Curtain (M.521), Elinor and Florence Leyland (M.522), Elinor Leyland (M.544) and Study for 'The Blue Girl: Portrait of Miss Elinor Leyland' (M.717).
Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; MacDonald, Margaret F. et al, Whistler, Women and Fashion, New Haven and London, 2003.