Frederick Dawson Leyland was the son of the Liverpool ship owner Frederick Richards Leyland and his wife Frances (née Dawson), who married in 1855 and separated in 1879. He had three sisters, Fanny, Florence and Elinor.
F. D. Leyland was good friends with Whistler and invited him to visit him in Harrow in 1872. He was not always on the best of terms with his father but did not take Whistler's part in the artist's dispute with him in 1876-77. He and Whistler were in correspondence from 1873 until 1877.
Whistler made a pastel drawing of F. D. Leyland around 1873. On 26 October 1906 the Pennells visited Frances Leyland and saw in her bedroom a pastel of 'the boy with a wide-brimmed hat on the back of his head, his legs crossed and stretched out in a graceful pose': it was photographed for them by William Gray. F. R. Leyland commissioned portraits from Whistler of all his four children but according to Pennell, 'the son, after three sittings, refused to pose again'.
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; 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.