San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center is proud to house paintings by two famous artists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Rivera's "La Tortillera," painted in 1926, and Kahlo's 1931 "Portrait of Dr. Leo Eloesser," both of which were given to the University of California San Francisco for display at the SFGH can now be viewed in the hospital's lobby.
The paintings were donated to UCSF with the stipulation that they be hung at the San Francisco General Hospital where their original owner, the late thoracic surgeon K. Leo Eloesser, MD, served for 36 years.
Born in San Francisco in 1881, Leo Eloesser was a pioneer in the field of thoracic surgery and joined the faculty of the Stanford Medical School in 1912. He was known for his work among the poor and indigent. At the age of 56, he volunteered as a medic for Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. He later conducted a medical relief mission in China for the United Nations following the Second World War.
Dr. Eloesser first met Diego Rivera in 1926 and later came to know Frida Kahlo, who looked to him for medical advice and friendship for the rest of her life. Both Rivera and Kahlo lived and worked in San Francisco in 1930-31, and during their stay, Dr. Eloesser treated her for chronic medical problems she suffered as a result of an earlier bus accident that occurred in Mexico when she was a young woman.
Portrait of Dr. Leo Eloesser
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 cardboard, 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, flanked by a young girl. 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 to UCSF with the provision that it be hung at SFGH. In 1975 Dr. Eloesser gave "La Tortillera" to the university with the same stipulation.