Letitia Anna Philippa Pervis was the daughter of the Rev. John Leman. On 25 November 1773 she married the Rev. Thomas Pervis (1750-1786), rector of Melton, Suffolk, with whom she had four children.
This striking portrait was painted following Downman’s visit in 1778 to the Rev. Doily near Cambridge, when he made drawings in black and red chalks of his host’s wife and the present sitter (fg. 1), both of which are now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (Complete List of Portraits in the Sketch Books from Butleigh Court, Second Series, Volume the Fourth, nos. 4 and 5). Although Mrs Pervis's powdered hair is worn high in keeping with the fashion of the day, the sitter’s attitude and flamboyantly arranged silk scarves, tied to her arm and bound around her hair, bring an engaging informality to the portrait.
John Downman was apprenticed to Benjamin West and studied at the Royal Academy Schools. He later travelled to Italy, and was in Rome with Joseph Wright of Derby from 1773-74. By 1777 he was living in Cambridge, but by 1778, the year the present portrait was painted, his annual contribution to the Academy exhibition was sent from Bedford Street, Covent Garden. Among the exhibits were two sets of 'Six portraits', in which the present work may have been included; his highly popular small portraits were often shown thus in groups of six or nine. Downman arguably produced some of his finest work during this period, when his services as a portraitist were clearly much in demand.