A bowlegged sailor stands on an unkempt quayside. He is looking out at an incoming rowing boat in which two figures sit, emerging from the pale blue-white light of a foggy day. The sailor with his confident pose, peaked cap and navy blue marine coat is the pilot, a familiar figure in Yeats’s work. This was a man of mythological dimensions whose job required great skill in navigation and sailing as well as a deep knowledge and understanding of the geography and climate of Sligo. He appears in several of Yeats’s drawings and paintings including The Lookout (Pilot House) (1910, see lot 5), Pilot, Sligo River (1927, Private Collection) and The Docks to Herself (1949, Private Collection). Hilary Pyle suggests that he is based on Michel Gillen, who worked at Rosses Point when Yeats was a child living with his grandparents in Sligo (Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats. A Biography, London, 1970, p.17.) His job was to guide the merchant ships from Rosses Point along the Garavogue river to the quayside in Sligo town.
In contrast to the pilot, the figures in the boat are ghostly and difficult to decipher. A man rows at the helm and a woman sits in the prow of the vessel behind him. They, like the boat in which they are travelling, are almost translucent as if their bodies have been dissolved by the clear daylight vying with the deep sea fog that surrounds them. The shadow of another large form is barely visible beyond them, painted in chaotic strokes of white. It could be a distant headland or merely a mirage created by the extreme conditions and poor visibility of the day.
The pilot stares at the figures, appraising the safety of their journey and the difficult task of their mooring. His feet stand firm on the seaweed covered landing in which deep reds and yellows suggest lush vegetation – seaweed, shrubbery and the verdant world of the land. This dark and abundant foliage covers the iron railings of the quayside adding to the strangeness of its geography. It appears to be as exotic as the waterlogged world which the pilot and those at sea must navigate.
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