tempera grassa on canvas
54″ x 67″
Since there were no photographs or news footage of the limousine as it arrived at Parklawn Hospital, Balma’s painting relied on an obscure narrative passage from the controversial Warren Commission Report on the assassination, which reads, “For a moment, Mrs. Kennedy refused to release the president whom she held in her lap.” Prior to discovering this detail in two years of intense research for the painting, Balma, first received a visual inspiration for the painting while traveling through the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport in 2002. Doctor Phillip Williams, who was an intern at the hospital that day and only one of two surviving people on site that day along with Secret Service Agent Clint Hill (who threw himself on the president and the first lady after the shots rang out), confirmed how chillingly accurate the painterly depiction really is.
“The painting is in the style of other historical paintings that belong to the national memory, like Washington crossing the Delaware, the signing of the Declaration of Independence and others,” Balma notes, pointing out how the title alludes to the famous Michelangelo sculpture of Mary and the crucified Jesus, which is called “The Pieta” and on display at the Vatican. “This historical work one just happens to capture a period in our history that is not uplifting but nonetheless important, since in many ways it marked an end of innocence in American life and politics. It is more like Goya’s ‘Third of May’ painting, or Picasso’s abstract work about the Spanish Civil War, ‘Guernica.’”
“History is the memory of a nation. Through art and history we honor and transmit our cultural values. That is reason enough for Balma’s “Pieta” to become part of our historical artistic heritage,” notes Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D. Professor of Art History, Fairfield University, Connecticut. Based on such similar observations and reactions from those who’ve seen the painting, it’s very possible that when people look back on the art that interpreted the assassination event in 100 years, this will be the piece that they will turn to.