Thoughts On “Paris Street: Rainy Day” > One of New York’s most stylish women, reflects on the famous – and fashionable – painting.
BY DAVID MASELLO
Linda Zagaria likes the past. When she puts on one of her vintage 1930s hats, perhaps lowering its veil or reshaping a broad brim, and walks into New York’s National Arts Club, where she served as president from 2016 to 2020, she is as much a woman of the present as she is of the (fashionable) past. So, upon first seeing Gustave Caillebotte’s 1877 “Paris Street: Rainy Day” at the Art Institute of Chicago, with its depiction of an elegant couple strolling arm-in-arm beneath an umbrella, Zagaria said to herself, “That’s where I want to go, that version of Paris.”
She has been to Paris, likely strolling the very intersection depicted, and while she loves the city, she acknowledges that what we see in the painting no longer exists. Yet it does, in part, since the Haussmann buildings are still there, as well as the moody hues and gray cast of the sky. “It’s a bygone era, a version of Paris we’ll never see again, but it’s been captured here, not only that particular part of the city, but that one particular moment, that day, that rain,” Zagaria notes. “Yes, it makes me a bit wistful to look at the painting, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It evokes that in me.”
Zagaria is recognized as one of New York’s most stylish women (for example, images of her appear in Ari Seth Cohen’s fashion chronicle Advanced Style), but she wears that designation with a sense of humor and lack of pretension. She cites her fascination with clothes of the 1930s and ’40s (“though, of late, I’ve been venturing into the ’50s”) as beginning with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies she watched on television as a girl, growing up in Brooklyn. “I was mesmerized by Fred and Ginger,” she says, “the dancing, the elegant clothes, the magnificent sets.”
When Zagaria first saw the Caillebotte canvas, far larger in size than she had imagined, she likens the experience to “having entered a movie set.” She says, “The figures were that large and it felt as if I were suddenly occupying the street with them.” As every viewer does with this iconic painting, Zagaria suddenly assumed a starring role, for Caillebotte’s life-size figures appear ready to include everyone in their Paris. She says they loom so closely that many viewers wonder, “Will there even be room on the sidewalk for us all to pass?”
“The woman’s elegant outfit, beautifully trimmed in fur, the way the man is dressed, the neat mustache he sports, these are the details that first struck me,” says Zagaria, though she admits to a mild disappointment when she saw the pedestrian white frame that once surrounded the work (rather than a gold-toned one). “The painting deserved something more than that, perhaps something more of its period, the Beaux Arts,” Zagaria says, a fitting remark given that she also serves as executive director of the Beaux Arts Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes cultural links between France and the U.S.
Although the couple appear ready to meet the viewer momentarily, Zagaria is struck, too, by their off-center glance. “Every time I see a reproduction of the painting, I’m struck by the fact that they’re not looking at each other but at something else. Who is it they’re suddenly spotting — a friend across the Place de Dublin, or is she pointing to a hat in a shop? They’re not necessarily a romantic couple, but there’s a real romance to the picture. When I look at it, I do feel that I’m in that Paris.” And when New Yorkers spot Zagaria on the street, garbed in period outfits seemingly tailor-made for her frame, they, too, are aware of being in New York at a certain time in its history.
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