Yesterday was the corporate holiday that makes money on people’s tender feelings, but Nickolas Muray was born on this day in 1892. Born as Miklós Mandl, the Hungarian artist traveled to America before the outbreak of World War I with very little money and equally scarce knowledge of the English language but armed with a flaming desire to succeed as an artist.
He worked as an engraver before the commission from Harper’s Bazaar to do a photograph of actress Florence Reed. That photo launched his career and he became recognized as an exceptional portrait and fashion photographer. Muray’s works were published in Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and other prominent magazines. He photographed Hollywood movie stars and traveled to Europe to take photos of celebrities. Nickolas made over 10,000 portraits between 1920 and 1940, competed as an Olympic saber fencer, and married four times.
Muray’s romantic relationship with Frida Kahlo lasted ten years until her divorce and remarriage to Diego Rivera made the lovesick photographer realize that she wanted him as a lover and would never marry him. Still, they remained close friends until Frida’s death.
The letters that Frida wrote to him are some of the tenderest I have ever seen. For example, she used a dictionary to write this little note in Hungarian, which is very sweet:
I love you like I would love an angel. You are a Lillie of the valley, my love. I will never forget you, never, never. You are my whole life. I hope you will never forget this.”
This one is also touching:
“My beloved Nick,
This morning I received your letter after so many days of waiting. I felt such happiness that I started crying even before I read it. My child, I really should not complain about anything that happens to me in life, so long as you love me and I love you. This love is so real and beautiful that it makes me forget all my pain and problems; it makes me forget even distance. Through your words I feel so close to you that I can feel your laughter, so clean and honest, that only you have. I’m counting the days until my return. One more month! Then we’ll be together again.”
And this one makes you smile if you are aware that she had a husband the whole while:
“You can only kiss Mam as much as you want. Don’t make love to anyone, if you can help it. Do it only in case you find a real F.W. (fucking wonder), but don’t fall in love.”
Frida gifted her self-portrait to Nickolas, and he kept it in his living room his whole life.