William Ashford, who was born in Birmingham, moved to Ireland in 1764, under the patronage of Ralph Ward, whom the Duke of Leinster had brought to Dublin as Surveyor General of the Ordnance. Alongside an official position within the Ordnance Office in Dublin Castle, which involved auditing armaments and munition in the various forts and barracks throughout Ireland, Ashford developed his talents as an artist and became one of the best known landscape painters in Ireland, exhibiting his works in both Ireland and England. After the tragically premature death of his rival Thomas Roberts in 1778 there was little serious competition to him in Ireland as a landscape painter and he dominated the field for the next thirty years. An almost identical composition with different figures, which was signed and dated '1779', was sold at Christie's on 28 July 1961 (for which see A. Crookshank, 'A Life Devoted to Landscape Painting, William Ashford', Irish Arts Review Yearbook, Vol. 11, 1995, p. 130, no. 76). The picture can also be compared stylistically to Ashford's River in the Demesne at Charleville, signed and dated '1801' (National Gallery of Ireland). It has been suggested that the rugged rocky terrain in the present landscape makes it likely to be the Dargle river, Co. Wicklow, which was famous for its fishing. In 1801 an anonymous diarist singled out Ashford's work, including the Charleville pictures, for favourable comment in a review of the exhibition held in the former Irish House of Parliament on College Green:
'There is abundant scope for an exertion of the artist's genius in the delineation of foliage. The articulation is perfect and the colouring so beautifully rich, and various, that I could with pleasure have spent hours in viewing them'.
We are grateful to William Laffan for his assistance with this catalogue entry.