Lady Valerie Susie Meux, née Langdon, married Henry Bruce Meux in haste and in secret on 27 August 1878. He was a London brewer who became third and last baronet of Theobald's Park, Waltham Cross, Herefordshire in 1883. He died in 1900.
Lady Meux was not accepted by her husband's aristocratic family nor by polite Victorian society. She claimed to have been an actress before her marriage to Henry Meux, but was believed to have worked under the name Val Reece at the Casino de Venise in Holburn. The magazine Truth claimed that for a time she had cohabited with a certain Corporal Reece.
Painting three portraits of her in 1881 Whistler presented Lady Meux as a rather sensual and fashion conscious figure. Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux (YMSM 228), Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux (YMSM 229) and Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs (YMSM 230) were significant works for Whistler, being the first full-scale commissions to have been given him following his bankruptcy in 1879. They were also significant for Meux being painted by an artist of some considerable notoriety.
The three works were commissioned in 1881 by Henry Meux for 1500 guineas: Whistler later agreed to accept 1200 guineas. A fourth portrait in riding habit was suggested but not begun. According to Leslie Ward it had been Charles Brookfield who had suggested that Whistler should paint Meux. Brookfield later drew a caricature of Whistler painting the three portraits which appeared in the Graphic on 25 March 1911.
On 27 June 1882 Whistler wrote to the London printseller A. Graves suggesting that he should have Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux (YMSM 229) engraved. The painting was caricatured in Punch on 27 May 1882 as 'To be completed in a few more Sittings'. It was exhibited in Dublin in 1884 when it was insured for £300, and at the Goupil Gallery in February 1892. In December 1884 Whistler made a drawing of Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs (YMSM 230), the only portrait not completed, for C. W. Dowdeswell which was reproduced in the Illustrated London News. According to Rosalind Birnie Philip, Whistler later destroyed Portrait of Lady Meux in Furs (YMSM 230).
Meux and Whistler were in correspondence from 1886 to 1893. Their letters attest to their close relationship. In her will Meux excluded the Brudenell-Bruce family that had shunned her all her life.
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.