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LAC+USC Medical Center General Hospital
Artist: Hugo Ballin Hugo Ballin fresco ceiling
Date: 1932
District: First Supervisorial District
Location: LAC+USC Medical Center General Hospital
1200 North State Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Department: Health Services

This fresco ceiling mural directly above the Hospital’s main lobby, depicts real-life and mythological Greek medical heroes. Each of its three domes has a legendary demigod at its center. The central section is dominated by Aesculapius, Apollo’s son, who could bring the dead back to life.  On his right and left are Aesculapius’ sons, Podalirius and Machaon. Both were said to be miraculous healers who tended the wounded during the Trojan War. In addition to these fantastical men, Aesculapius is bordered by four real-life Greeks: Aristotle, Hippocrates, Herophilus, and Erasistratus. Each is famous for his contributions to the fields of philosophy or science. Podalirius and Machaon are surrounded by allegorical figures representing the emotional and practical qualities needed to care for and heal the sick.

All of the figures are set amongst a brilliant blue sky. Gold circles dominate throughout the artwork, adding to the round proportionality of the ceiling’s three domes and numerous arches. As is typical of the buon fresco technique, paint was applied directly onto the plaster of the Hospital’s ceiling so that the resulting painting is literally embedded in the building. It is the only fresco that Hugo Ballin ever created.

About the Artist: Hugo Ballin (1879-1956) was born in New York City and studied at the Art Students’ League as well as in Italy and France. He became a professional painter and one of his early notable projects was a series of murals for the Wisconsin State Capitol. In 1921, Samuel Goldwyn hired him as an art director and he moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. He soon directed his own movies (many of which starred his wife, Mabel Croft Ballin) and formed his own production company. When talking pictures revolutionized Hollywood, Ballin quit the industry to return to painting (although he did provide sketches for The Wizard of Oz in 1939). He quickly became one of the foremost muralists in southern California. His most famous public works include murals at Union Station, Griffith Park Observatory, the Los Angeles Times Building, the Southern California Edison Company Building, and the Title Insurance and Trust Company Building (now known as the Los Angeles Design Center). In addition to painting and directing, he also wrote four successful novels.