Elizabeth ('Lizzie') Clark Dawson was the daughter of the mariner and iron moulder Thomas Dawson and Jane Dawson, née Thornhill. She had three sisters, Frances (b. 1836), who was to marry the Liverpool shipping merchant F. R. Leyland, Elizabeth (b. 1840), who died in infancy, and Jane (b. ca 1842). The family lived in Toxteth Park, a working class area of Liverpool. She may have been married in Liverpool about March-June 1873.
Frances Leyland informed E. R. and J. Pennell on 26 October 1906 that Elizabeth Dawson had been briefly engaged to JW in February 1872. According to W. M. Rossetti the engagement was announced on 21 February 1872. The engagement was broken off several times and finally ended in 1873. As a result, Whistler's visits to the Leyland home at Speke Hall were curtailed. Frances Leyland described Elizabeth as pretty, but not the right wife for JW, and she considered it fortunate that the engagement was broken off.
It is possible that Dawson was the model for The Silk Dress (K.107), as well as for several drawings, including r.: Elizabeth Dawson in profile; v.: A nude leaning against a rail (M.440), Elizabeth Dawson, full face (M.441), Head of a woman (M.442) and r.: Self-portrait; v.: standing woman (M.463).
Bornand, Odette (ed.), The Diary of William Michael Rossetti 1870-73, Oxford, 1877; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995;Merrill, Linda, The Peacock Room. A Cultural Biography, New Haven and London, 1998.