Ward was born in London, the son of a warehouse manager. He was apprenticed to John Raphael Smith in about 1782, but left after a short time to assist his brother, William, an engraver. He learned from him the process of mezzotint, in which he came to excel. Ward's early work was much influenced by the rustic genre of George Morland (1763-1804), who married his sister. Ward was appointed mezzotinter to the Prince of Wales in 1794. He first showed his own work at the Royal Academy in 1792, and abandoned engraving to paint animals, first livestock portraits, and later animal subject pictures with heroic landscapes. He was elected A.R.A. in 1807, and R.A. in 1811, in which year he began painting his enormous canvas of Gordale Scar. Thereafter his work aspired consistently to the sublime, and he executed many history pictures. He outlived the fashion for his work and died impoverished and neglected. (Andrew Wilton, British Watercolours: 1750 to 1850 (London, 1977), 201.