Ashford, William (1746–1824), artist, was christened on 20 May 1746 in St. Martin's parish church, Birmingham, the son of Richard Ashford of Birmingham. Nothing is recorded of his early life in England but he almost certainly had some form of technical and/or artistic education. He probably came to Ireland as a result of the patronage of Ralph Ward (a Warwickshire man who was appointed surveyor general of the ordnance in Ireland in 1761). In 1764 Ashford was appointed clerk to the comptroller of the laboratory section of the ordnance in Dublin at a salary of £40 a year. Between 1774 and 1777 he lived at various addresses in close proximity to Dublin castle, including Aston Quay, Dame St., and Indian Quay. The first pictures that he exhibited in Dublin at the Society of Artists between 1767 and 1771 were of flower studies and still lifes. Ashford's job in the ordnance office was to inspect the condition of the armaments stored at forts and barracks. It was perhaps this opportunity to travel around Ireland that encouraged his interest in landscape painting. In 1772 Ashford exhibited his first landscapes in Dublin and was awarded the second premium from the Dublin Society. In 1773 he exhibited seven works at the Society of Artists and won the first prize. He soon received commissions from the nobility and gentry to paint their houses and demesnes, and the income that he received from painting outstripped his salary in the ordnance. In 1775 the 1st marquis of Drogheda (qv) (d. 1822) paid £57. 9s. 3d. for three views of Moore Abbey. By c.1777 Ashford was affluent enough to move to a house on St Stephen's Green. The death of the landscape painter Thomas Roberts (qv) in 1778 meant that Ashford had no other serious rival as a painter in this genre for the next thirty years. He left the ordnance office c.1788 to concentrate on his art.
Ashford lived at addresses in London periodically throughout his working life and exhibited twenty-five pictures at the Royal Academy between 1775 and 1811, and further works at the Incorporated Society of Arts and the British Institute in London. In 1792 his friend James Gandon (qv) designed a house for him in Sandymount, Dublin, where he was to live for the rest of his life. He was a prolific artist and over 102 of his paintings were exhibited at various societies in Ireland including the Society of Artists in Ireland, the Academy of Artists in Dublin, and the Cork Society for Promoting Fine Arts. His most active period was 1777–1813, and his pictures generally sold at auction for between £2 and £10. In the last decade of his life he painted very little and his last dated work is from 1821. He encouraged other artists in Ireland and in 1792 the Dublin Society purchased his collection of studio statues, casts, and props so that they could be used for instruction at the society's drawing school. In 1813 he was elected president of the Irish Society of Artists and in 1823 became the first president of the RHA. He did not live to see or contribute to the Academy's first exhibition.
Though Ashford did paint some sublime views (e.g. in north Wales c.1788) the bulk of his work was of Irish landscape scenes; particularly panoramic views of the well-ordered demesnes and parkland owned by the nobility. He was heavily influenced by the work of the seventeenth-century masters such as Claude Lorraine and earlier English landscape painters such as Richard Wilson, and his Irish landscapes have a warm continental feel. A number of his views were engraved for Views of seats of Ireland (1793) by Thomas Milton (1743–1827). He was weaker at depicting human figures, and this might explain his collaboration from c.1790 with John Thomas Serres (who was adept at figure and marine painting). Ashford was a versatile painter and might have branched out into other genres of art if his landscapes had not been so successful with Irish patrons. He is known to have painted detailed nature studies and pictures based on scenes from plays. The album of drawings of Mount Merrion, Co. Dublin, that he produced by commission (c.1806) for the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam (qv) (d. 1833) shows that he was a master at handling watercolour. Ashford's depiction of the opening of Ringsend harbour in Dublin (NGI) shows that he had the capacity to work on large-scale commemorative/historical pieces. Some of his later landscapes captured the effects of storms and he paved the way for Irish romantic painters such as James Arthur O'Connor (qv).
He married (his wife's name is unknown) c.1775 and had two sons and one daughter. The eldest son, Daniel, was also an artist and exhibited in Dublin c.1800 but received far less acclaim than his father. William Ashford died at his home in Sandymount Park on 17 April 1824. The contents of his studio were sold between 18 and 21 May 1824. Ashford's portrait, painted by William Cuming (qv), now hangs at the RHA. John Comerford (qv) painted a portrait miniature of him c.1820 (in NGI; reproduced in Caffrey). J. Nugent engraved a print based on a Comerford miniature in 1803.