Helen ('Nellie') Brown was the daughter of the London art dealer Ernest G. Brown. Nellie and her brother Ernest were born and brought up in Dulwich Village.
JW first met Nellie's father when he was a young man working in the office of Messrs. Seeley & Co. Later, Brown became assistant manager of the Fine Art Society and persuaded its directors to offer JW a commission for twelve plates to be made in Venice.
In 1895 Brown commissioned a portrait of Nellie from JW. Rose and Gold: 'Pretty Nellie Brown' (YMSM 451) was begun probably late November at 8 Fitzroy Street but was not fully completed until May 1900. From 1896 to 1898 JW was in correspondence with Mrs Brown, mainly concerning sitting arrangements for Nellie. For example, on 27 October 1896 he writes to Mrs Brown that Nellie's hair must not be cut (#03653). JW stayed in contact with his 'Pretty little Nellie Brown' (#00420) until 1901, sending her short messages and Christmas cards.
In 1886 JW designed a colour scheme for the Brown's bathroom, Colour scheme for a lavatory (M.1104). A watercolour drawing of the scheme was passed on to Nellie by family descent.
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.