"Frida on Bench” by Nickolas Muray, 1939.
Frida Kahlo and her path to her first Vogue Cover is not exactly a simple and straight forward story thanks to the internet. The image of the famous Mexican painter has been floating around the internet for years showing her on various versions adorning the the cover of Vogue Magazine. If you look on the internet you would believe that Frida first graced the cover of Vogue Paris back in 1939. But she did not.
It turns out that the 1939 cover is a clever mock up that somehow became the stuff of urban myth when in fact it never happened. So why was 1939 chosen as the date for this mocked up cover? Proponents of the mocked up version give us the theory that Frida visited Paris that year and was photographed and interviewed for Vogue during this stay. But that is not true at all. The real story is that the photograph, titled “Frida on Bench” was taken by Nickolas Muray, a Hungarian photographer. He was Kahlo’s intermittent lover in 1939. So the date of the photo is correct but who decided to make it into a mock up of a cover and how it became taken as fact will forever remain a mystery.
Fake mock-up cover of Vogue Paris.
In 2002 another version of a Vogue cover was used in the 2002 Miramax film Frida. This cover was posed with Salma Hayek, who magnificently portrayed Frida in the film. The color palette was changed to create distinction. What is interesting is whether this version inspired the Vogue Paris 1939 fake, or was it vice versa?
Still from the movie "Frida", 2002.
It is worth noting that Kahlo did make an appearance inside the October 1937 edition of American Vogue. She was interviewed by Alice-Leone Moats and photographed by Toni Frissel. The published images and outtakes are of her standing next to an agave plant titled “Senoras of Mexico”.
Photos by Toni Frissel for Vogue US, October 1937.
This all brings us to the year 2012 when Frida Kahlo officially became a real Vogue cover girl for the November issue of Vogue Mexico for the first time. It was nearly 60 years after her death, and over 70 years after the first mock-up. The issue coincided with the opening of the exhibit “Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo” at the artist’s eponymous museum: Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan, Mexico.
Frida Kahlo's first Vogue cover. Vogue Mexico, November 2012.
Most recently the actress Jessica Lange payed tribute when she chose to dress up as Kahlo for New York Magazine February 2017 in one of “eight legendary artists, rebels and trailblazers”.
Jessica Lange by Sandro, New York Magazine, February 2017.
Over the years this iconic photograph continues to circulate and inspire. While the legendary artist died in 1954, her image and legacy lives on and she is beloved by all. Even if her first cover in 1939 never really happened, the faux cover is so beautiful that I kind of wish it had. Sometimes appearances can be deceiving and in this case that is a good thing.