William Ashford P.R.H.A. (Birmingham c. 1746- 1824 Dublin)
William Ashford P.R.H.A. (Birmingham c. 1746- 1824 Dublin)

A view of the bridge at Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, a figure on the bridge and other figures with a dog near the water's edge

William Ashford P.R.H.A. (Birmingham c. 1746- 1824 Dublin)
A view of the bridge at Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, a figure on the bridge and other figures with a dog near the water's edge
signed and dated 'W.Ashford. 1801' (lower centre)
oil on canvas
39 ½ x 49 5/8 in. (100.5 x 126 cm.)
Charles William Bury, 1st Earl of Charleville (1764-1835), Charleville Castle, County Offaly, and by descent.
with Leger Galleries, London.
Private collection, Spain.
A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, The Painters of Ireland: c. 1660-1920, London, 1978, p. 136.
A. Crookshank, ‘A Life devoted to Landscape Painting: William Ashford (c.1746-1824)’, Irish Arts Review, 11, 1995, pp. 120 and 128, no. 38.
A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, Ireland’s Painters: 1600-1940, New Haven and London, 2002, p. 153.
Dublin, Parliament House, The Exhibition of the Society of Artists of Ireland, 1801, either no. 5, 51, 58, 71 or 78.

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Abbie Barker
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Lot Essay

This picture is one of a series of five views of Charleville, County Offaly, in the centre of Ireland, which was commissioned from William Ashford by Charles Bury, Viscount Charleville (later 1st Earl of Charleville), in 1801, the year that he was elected an Irish Representative Peer.

Charleville Castle was the prodigious creation of Charles William Bury, 1st Earl of Charleville (1765–1835) who inherited the property in 1785. An affable dilettante with an enthusiasm for architecture and antiquities, he had done the Grand Tour to Italy and sought plans from the Romano-Scottish virtuoso James Byers for a huge Palladian house. However, Lord Tullamore, as he then was, changed his mind and sketched out gothic schemes for a dramatic asymmetrical castle with interiors in the spirit of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. Lady Louisa Conolly applauded the project, writing to his wife on 8 November 1800: ‘I am very glad to hear that you have begun your castle for I think there are few occupations more entertaining than building and Lord Tullamore will enjoy it much having planned it all himself’. The eminent Irish architect Francis Johnston was selected to implement the scheme and Charleville is undoubtedly the finest gothic castle of its date in Ireland. The interior with its Fonthill-like hall, vast fan-vaulted gallery, stables with coroneted stalls and the surrounding woods and river made Charleville a most picturesque property. Sir Charles Coote was enchanted by Charleville, writing that its fifteen hundred acres ‘are delightfully wooded with fine full-grown timber’ and that ‘the river Clodiagh runs with rapidity through the demesne, which is well supplied with several mountain streams, and with several rustic bridges, which with cascades have altogether the most charming effect.’

Ashford, as the foremost landscape artist working in Ireland at the end of the 18th century, received commissions from many of the most prominent landowning families in Ireland, including the Duke of Leinster and Earl FitzWilliam, and was elevated to the post of first President of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1823. He was a self-taught artist; he came to Dublin from Birmingham in 1764, not to attend the Society Schools but to take up the positon of Clerk to the Comptroller of the Laboratory section of the Ordnance. He began exhibiting at the Society of Artists in William Street in 1767. These early fower pieces, though attractive, display an amateurish quality and it was not until later that he began to gain renown as a landscape painter, winning the second premium from the Society of Artists in 1772 and the frst premium a year later. It was also at the Dublin Society that he would exhibit his series of views of the grounds, the river and the Gothic Dairy at Charleville in 1801. An anonymous critic singled them out at that exhibition, commenting: ‘There is here 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’. Indeed, the present work demonstrates an expert handling of light and a sureness of touch, and the treatment of the shrubbery is remarkable in its delicacy and precision. The castle was incomplete at the time of the commission and the series is almost devoid of buildings.

Of the four other views exhibited, one is in the National Gallery of Ireland; another two were sold in these Rooms on 12 July 1991, lots 67 and 68 (£132,000 and £110,000 respectively).

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