'Return of the Wanderer', seen in the Ulster Museum in Belfast, is a striking example of Jack Butler Yeats' later work, when after a career as an illustrator he developed a deeply personal, expressionist style to express poetic, often mystical subjects.
Though usually mentioned as the-brother-of, Jack Butler created a fascinating visual mythology of his own, both distinct from and echoeing the poetry of William Butler Yeats. In both their work the Irish people and landscape play a central role - with its ever changing weather and light and harsh beauty caught in glimpses behind the next hilltop or over a cliff.
Often recurring in their work is the county of Sligo where they spent part of their youth. Thus the mountain in the background of 'Return of the Wanderer' might be identified with Ben Bulben, the distinctly shaped mountain overlooking Sligo.
At the foot of Ben Bulben is the grave of William Butler (1865-1939), with its austere epitaph, from the final lines of his poem 'Under Ben Bulben'.
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by.
It's tempting to recognize in this horseman the wanderer, returning from the hills and on his way to the sea...