Dimensions: 8 × 11cm
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Presented to Sligo County Library and Museum, 1965 by James A. Healy as a memorial to his parents John and Catherine Healy
The five separate watercolours were based on sketches of men working on the Sligo quays at the turn of the 20th century. They were exhibited in Dublin in 1900 and purchased by John Quinn in 1902. Painted on the back of invitation cards to Jack Yeats’s 1899 Sketches in the West of Ireland exhibition, the five paintings were framed together by the artist to form one complete work. They show different workers involved in the shipping business in Sligo with which Yeats was very familiar. His grandfather William Pollexfen was the owner of a large merchant shipping concern in the town and Yeats spent much of his childhood in the company of his grandfather’s employees.
The paintings depict the bay pilot, who surveys the view with binoculars in hand, and the river pilot with peaked cap whose job was to guide the ships up the inlet of the sea at Rosses Point into Sligo town. The three other figures, the stevedore, the ganger and the gand are involved in the loading and unloading of the ships’ cargo. All these figures recur in Yeats’s later work but the most significant is the river pilot whose distinctive beard, cap and white shirt reappear in many later paintings.
Written by Roisin Kennedy