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Longreads pick: A look at the unlikely friendship between Frida Kahlo and a Stanford surgeon

LeoWhen I think of artist Frida Kahlo, I think of Mexico, Diego Rivera, her bus accident, and, of course, those eyebrows. As it turns out, there's a lot about the famous self-portraitist's life that I didn't know before reading this Stanford Medicine article - starting with her times spent in San Francisco and her long-distance friendship with Stanford surgeon Leo Eloesser, MD. From writer Catherine Reef:

Eloesser was leading a full life when he and Kahlo crossed paths. He was chief of Stanford’s surgical service at San Francisco County Hospital (now SF General) and clinical professor of surgery at Stanford’s School of Medicine, which was then in San Francisco. A famed diagnostician, he had a thriving private practice and operated at five other city hospitals. “Leo was a workhorse. He had no concept of time, night or day,” said a junior associate at the county hospital, according to The History of the Surgical Service at San Francisco General Hospital (2007). He played viola with members of the San Francisco Symphony in an ensemble that met in his apartment each Wednesday. He frequently took out his sloop, the Flirt, often with a companion, often female. He deflected questions about his single status with statements quoted in Shumacker’s biography such as “I hate domesticity.” Commented Shumacker, “Conventions were no bother to Leo.”

Neither were they to Kahlo...

After meeting in 1930 (when Kahlo went to Eloesser for a chronically painful right foot), the two began a decades-long correspondence:

The letters and journals that Kahlo and Eloesser left behind reveal a bond that went far beyond the doctor-patient relationship. She wrote him passionate missives confiding not only her physical pains but also her deeply private emotional suffering. He was a ready listener, offering medical and moral support along with a generous dose of affection and playful wit. He even served as a go-between in her turbulent relationship with Rivera. He was awed by her talent, intelligence and audacity, and he found in her a kindred spirit, someone acutely interested in the world’s cultures and in helping those who were less privileged.

I found the article terribly interesting, and I'm not the only one: Longreads, the long-form journalism curator, has selected it as a story worth reading.

Image of Leo Eloesser, portrait by Frida Kahlo, from University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine; © 2013 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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