Last updated: March 11, 2020 - (Ventôse - Cochléria)

Is it the piloton? In a Tanguy painting?

The painting reproduced in this context, of which the original is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, can give rise to two perceptions, two interpretations that ultimately imply two philosophies:
1) Bah ... there is a very vague resemblance and it is a normal coincidence
2) I don't believe in coincidences: there is a clear similarity and it is really incredible
Whoever finds himself in the first case is useless to proceed with the reading: there are only stupid nonsense. For other people ...

The context

Yves Tanguy was introduced to painting almost by chance, or rather by inspiration after seeing the works of De Chirico. He was friend of Matisse, but he was introduced to surrealism by his great friend Prevert and Breton. He was a great artist, although unjustly he is perhaps less famous than a Dalì or a De Chirico. His pictorial style is particular, very personal, but it is fully part of surrealism, whatever our attempt to define this current (can we call it so?).
As Breton defines it:

Surrealism is the "invisible ray" which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents. "You are no longer trembling, carcass."
This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost.

The conclusion of the first "Surrealist Manifesto" introduces us very well to the work in question.
It being understood that if it is difficult and reductive to translate from one language to another (as I am trying to do now), it is impossible to translate from one artistic language to another one as, e.g., painting to prose could be in our case. It is perhaps possible, even in the case of a surrealist picture, to try to highlight its details and to read it by assonance in an attempt to share the message that is perceived.
So let's start from the beginning.

The title

"Death Watching his Family", might seem a typical surrealist nonsense that must be interpreted or catched poetically. But don't: it is a quote extrapolated from the "Traité de métapsychique" by Charles Richet, French physician and physiologist, Nobel Prize in medicine in 1913 for studies on anaphylaxis. This multiple-interest scholar was also interested in border sciences and had been (literally) at the same table with Cesare Lombroso and Eusapia Palladino to do scientific research on spiritualism.
He coined the term "Metapsychics" (now in disuse, the term "Parapsychology" is preferred) distinguishing in the treatise in question between subjective and objective metapsychism. I confess I have not read the book, but I cant understand there are phenomena "not yet explained" by science wanted by the subject (see for example Uri Geller who "seems" to bend the keys with the power of thought) and involuntary ones such as premonitions. But let's recontextualize the sentence in the original speech:

Nous sommes en pleines ténèbres. Déjà en métapsychique objective nous ne comprenions guère comment, à trois mille kilomètres de distance, BANCA, à la même minute où sa famille va périr, parle de mort guettant sa famille, comment le chevalier de FIGUEROA peut voir, six mois avant l'événementi a paysan, vêtu de noir, frapper the croupe of a mulet pour le laisser monter an escalier tordu. Corn, when the s'agit de métapsychique objective, c'est bien plus effrayant encore. a métapsychique objective est le mystère, le mystère absolu, et les tentatives d'explication qu'on hasarde paraissent assiz puériles.
Pourtant on n'a pas le droit de soustraire ces faits à l'investigation scientifique.

We are in darkness. Already in objective metapsychics we cannot understand how, three thousand kilometers away, BANCA, at the same time that his family is going to die, talks about death watching his family, as the Knight of FIGUEROA can see, six months before a farmer, dressed in black, hit the back of a mule to make him climb a twisted staircase. But when it comes to objective metapsychics, it's far more frightening. Objective metapsychics is the mystery, the absolute mystery, and the attempted explanations that venture seem quite childish.
However, we do not have the right to withdraw these facts from scientific investigations.

I don't know if "Banca" is a proper name or if it refers to another part of the book, but it seems clear to us that our title speaks about a premonition: "three thousand kilometers away, BANCA, at the same time that his family is going to die, talks about DEATH WATCHING HIS FAMILY."
Of course it is absolutely legitimate to also think that extrapolation was deliberately made to obtain another meaning at the same time. The title itself would thus become part of that Breton "invisible ray" which is the whole work.

The painting

Painting, as poetry and other arts, often feeds himself by metaphors and other rhetorical figures. "Often" doesn't mean "always", "often" doesn't mean "totally".
In this case we can hypothesize that the artist has partially picked up from them regards four elements: the monolith, the green shrub, the sky and the earth, in practice the only things (almost) figuratively recognizable.
The monolith, which we will familiarly call "Piloton", lies hieratic in the center of the scene. It gives a sense of firmness, of immobility in the midst of elements that move, that tremble. Could it represent death? Or perhaps a simple point of reference in the midst of an incessant flow? The green tuft, perhaps a shrub, placed in front of the Piloton recalls life instead. Death, symbolically white, monolithic and hieratic, seems to loom on the symbolically green, small and fragile life.
Then there is the sky, blue like Breton's roses, which are a clear reference to something that does not exist in nature as Lynch reminded us in Twin Peaks third season. It is not a serene and reassuring blue sky: it is uncertain, it is ambiguous.
Finally there is the earth. If the sky is realistic that it is shaky, the earth should not give this feeling, but here it transmits it without doubt. By putting together even these four elements opposite each other, piloton-shrub / life-death and heaven-earth / high-low, we have on the whole a feeling of gloom, of doom.
But if the panorama is distressing and sinister on its own at this point we must also add the unqualifiable, the indefinite, the non-figurative.
I don't even know what names to use to talk about it: entity? Ectoplasm? Scribbles? A sort of gray twisting column on the left, a black "cloud" from which gray bows fall, a kind of ghost, almost Disney character, with a trumpet nose, another kind of more classic ghost, stylized fish and lizards (?).
There is everything, and everything is unrecognizable, dreamlike, made of the "such stuff as dreams", compulsive creation of the unconscious, but not of the Freudian one of the contents removed, this is a birth of the Jungian unconscious, of the unconscious collective. These are entities of another reality, not graphically representable, or better represented differently according to the observer.
We can get help from Castaneda: here we are off "the island of Tonal", and we are observing the Nahual.

Which is rhe connection point bewteen the real piloton and the real one?

Apart from the similarity of image there is another affinity.
We inevitably turn to Grancelli, the illuminating beacon of alternative interpretations of Roman monuments in Verona. We have a "cardo", but perhaps more a little "cardo", a "cardello" (there is a tower with this name in the parallel street) oriented to the rising of the sun in the summer solstice, with a straight line passing from Castel San Pietro and Piloton. Four aligned points, or rather: a segment plus three aligned points, are more than a coincidence.
If on the top of the hill where the church of "St. Peter at the Castle" stood at the time of the bishop Ratherius, Grancelli Grancelli refers to him for the Civitas Veronensis Depicta (sorry the page is only in italian version). Grancelli identifies this church with the remains of a temple of Janus (the cistern recently secured) both for the position and for the keys, Janus and St.Peter 's symbol.
Janus Bifrons, with a face that looks to the past and other one that looks to the future and to whom the first month of the year is symbolically dedicated, is a solstice divinity. So our Piloton is also a point, a solstice totem, as the plaque next to it reminds us. But the solstice gates, as Guenon has pointed out, are the entrance and exit of the cosmic cave. Janus (St. Peter) has the keys: through him you can access the heart, and this is what Guenon indicates as Giano's third face, who sees time as a unicum, no longer as past or future.

In conclusion

Is a boring true report or a fairytale better? Is a novel beautiful only if taken from a true story or even if it is of pure fantasy?
"En ma fin est mon commencement". Ab ovo: how can we paint a picture that incorporates Piloton?
Hyperrealist? There are already photographs.
Impressionist? Maybe with the ethereal grove behind that highlights light games in the golden hours? It would seem a little stale.
Metaphysical? We are already more. I would have seen it well in a dreamlike creation by De Chirico.
No, I would say that this surrealist vision is perfect.
And anyway a playful bullshit I had to invent it.