Lucian Freud created Ada in 1948, intending for it to form the basis for an illustration in William Sansom's short novel, The Equilibriad. For that book, which told the tale of a man who awakens to find that he walks at a forty-five degree angle, Freud created several drawings, using the people who lived in his area in London as substitutes for the characters in the book. 'Ada' is the name of one of the characters in the book, and this picture in fact shows his neighbour on Delamere Terrace, Ruby Milton. In this picture, Ruby has been dressed up in order to capture more effectively Ada's character. Ruby featured in a single oil, painted the following year and donated in 1954 to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, a mark of the rising status that Freud was enjoying during this period. It was only a few years after Ada was created that the great critic Sir Herbert Reed dubbed Freud the 'Ingres of existentialism,' referring both to the atmosphere and to the exquisite, porcelain-like surfaces of his figures' faces in both his paintings and his drawings.
It is that existential quality, the searing intensity of the artist's scrutiny, that makes Ada such a vivid and evocative work. Ruby's clothes and her features have been picked out with incredible attention to detail, often resulting in densely-worked areas that perfectly capture the sense of shade and form. Freud's virtuosity as an artist is clear from the incredible rendering of her garments, her face, and even the undulating, drapery-like folds of the tablecloth. Freud has deliberately left much of the sheet in reserve, making the dark clothes stand out all the more; these in turn thrust the light area of the face into relief. The subject's eyes are large, recalling Freud's images of his wife Kitty Garman, whom he married in the same year. They fix the viewer, engaging us directly, even imploringly, adding an incredible sense of frailty to the image of Ada. This is emphasised by the way that she is clutching the table with one hand, a notion all the more apt for a book about balance. Meanwhile, the arrangement of the table, the flower and the spoon all conjure an atmosphere of stillness and strangeness perfectly suited to the Kafka-esque tale that it was used to illustrate. This is heightened by the incredible detailing of the fine feather-like fronds of the hat, which appear to have a life of their own, swaying like some mysterious coral reef. Indeed, there is an arcane quality in Ada that far surpasses the context of the novel, making it all the more intriguing and engaging a work in its own right.