Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera & ZSFG
After receiving his Medical Doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in 1907, Dr. Eloesser returned to San Francisco in 1910, did a clinical internship at SFGH, and joined the faculty of the Stanford Medical School in 1912, where he eventually became the Chief of the Thoracic Service of the Stanford University Division at San Francisco City and County Hospital.
After World War One (in 1918-19), Dr. Eloesser served as Chief of Amputation and Orthopaedic Services at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco. He was known for his work among the poor and indigent, and, in 1935-36, he established the first Thoracic Surgery clinic in Russia. At the age of 56, working as a medic in the Spanish Civil War, he ran his own Mobile Surgical Hospital.
Following his retirement in 1945, Dr. Eloesser worked for the United Nations Rehabilitation and Relief Administration (UNRRA) and UNICEF, in various capacities related to the development of rural health care in China, including a term as director of the Bethune International Peace Hospital and Medical School in Hsi Ching (Yenan Province).
During his last years, in Tacamburo, Michoacan, Mexico, he continued his efforts to develop solutions to rural medical problems by using indigenous resources to combat the high incidence of tuberculosis and infant death, including support of teaching and surgical activities at the Sanitario de Huipulco, al Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias, and the establishment of a curriculum to train rural midwives.
Dr. Eloesser and the Riveras
As a token of their friendship, and to repay him for his service, Kahlo painted a portrait of Dr. Eloesser in 1931 at his home on Leavenworth Street. Executed in oil on masonite, it shows him standing beside a model sailing ship named “Los Tres Amigos.” A small Rivera drawing hangs in the background. Rivera later gave Dr. Eloesser, “La Tortillera,” an oil on canvas depicting a woman making tortillas.
The three remained close friends in the years that followed. Kahlo wrote regularly to Dr. Eloesser, requesting his advice in letters addressed to her dear “doctorcito.”
Some years later, Dr. Eloesser presented Kahlo's portrait to a good friend, Carlton Mathewson, MD, UCSF clinical professor emeritus of surgery, who in 1968 donated it to UCSF with the provision that it permanently remain hanging at SFGH. In 1975 Dr. Eloesser gave “La Tortillera” to the University with the same stipulation.
The paintings often go on tour. The portrait of Dr. Eloesser has been to Mexico and across the US in recent years with celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Frida Kahlo's birth. During construction on the new hospital at ZSFG both paintings are safely stored and awaiting installation in the lobby.