The sitter was the daughter of John Ashton (1711-1759), a member of an old Liverpool family, who made a large fortune as a merchant, salt manufacturer and slave-trader. Wright's stay in the city, 1768-1771, was characterised by commissions from key mercantile families and he painted at least five portraits for the Ashton family - four ladies and a little boy - all of which date to circa 1769. The other three female members of the family are Mrs John Ashton (Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge); Anna Ashton, later Mrs Thomas Case (Private Collection); and Mrs Nicholas Ashton, née Mary Warburton Philpot (Private Collection), while the boy John Ashton is recorded in a mezzotint by Pether of 1770 and an early 19th Century copy, the original having been destroyed in the second world war.
Elizabeth married first John Bostock and second, in 1777, the Rev. John Yates. The present picture is presumably that referred to by William Carey (W. Carey, Letter to I... A... Esq., A Connoisseur, in London, Manchester, 1809): 'I lately saw in the possession of the Rev. Mr Yate [sic] at Liverpool, the portrait of a lady, firmly drawn and painted by Wright...'.
Nicolson (op. cit. p. 34) notes that there is a 'strong hint of Reynolds' in the Ashton portraits, and the series has an important place in Wright's evolution as a portraitist in the later 1760s. This picture dates from the same year as the celebrated portraits of Mr and Mrs Fleetwood Hesketh now at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, which are of the same 50 by 40 in. format that Wright had mastered in so individual a way.