“The First,” by Malika Favre. (The New Yorker 2017)

IT’S THE “what if” cover — the image that the New Yorker planned to run if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election.

On Wednesday afternoon, the magazine decided to go public with the illustration, which now accompanies editor David Remnick’s forthcoming sitdown article, “Hillary Clinton Looks Back in Anger” — one day after her campaign memoir, “What Happened,” was released.

The image, by French artist Malika Favre, is titled “The First,” and depicts a historic President Hillary Clinton gazing at the moonlight from the would-be viewpoint of the Oval Office. Now, alongside Remnick’s piece, the artwork, of course, takes on an entirely different tone — not of history, but of the poignancy of the hypothetical.

“That image brings everything back to me in a flash,” New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “The night of the election, I was at the office late, hard at work with final retouching on [Favre’s] image. I was focused on the technical details, getting the face just right, and on the layout. … ”

“I was trying not to tune in the results coming in. I had not prepared anything else,” continues Mouly, who launched the Resist! cartoon newspaper in response to President Trump’s victory. “Eventually the sense of dread that crept among the few colleagues still in the office eventually overwhelmed me, and I left.”

“I remember going to bed with a feeling of relief, pride and excitement and waking up the next day to intense disappointment,” Favre recounts of Election Night. “It was frustrating on all counts.”

The artist notes that the artwork can be read on multiple levels. “There is that moment of glory of seeing her standing in the Oval room at night,” the artist says of the Clinton figure, “but also that feeling of anticipation and almost loneliness that I wanted to convey. A little bit like a ‘What now…?’ moment.”

Mouly salutes the lasting power of Favre’s image, even when cast in a different historic light.

“The pent-up hope, the sense of accomplishment, the turn toward the future that we embraced up to that day is still in the image. It’s a testimony to the skill of a great artist that she can bring us back to that time of hope,” says Mouly, who has spoken often about her opposition of Trump. “And with her permanent record of that feeling, we’ll find the strength to build a future we can believe in.”

Last March, Favre created an animated New Yorker cover that celebrated women in medicine and spawned selfie replicas from a diverse range of healers.

The issue lands next week.

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