This meditation on the odalisque figure in Western art opens with Patricia Hampl’s discovery, as a young woman, of a Matisse painting in the Chicago Art Institute: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. Here was a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism, free and untouchable, a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood. Blue Arabesque explores the allure of that lounging figure so at odds with the increasing rush of modern life, transporting us to the Côte d’Azur and across to North Africa, from cloister to harem. We encounter writers and artists as diverse as Eugène Delacroix, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Katherine Mansfield, all of them magnetized, as Matisse was, by the liquid light of the south of France. Returning always to Matisse’s obsessive portraits of languid women, Hampl is startled to realize that they were not mere decorative indulgences but something much more.

To hear a reading from Blue Arabesque at the Prairie Lights book store, click here.

“a paean to the act of seeing, celebrating our capacity to be transformed by the truths art holds . . .”

New York Times Book Review For the full text of this review, click here.

“What’s most inspired about Blue Arabesque is that its form echoes, with apparent effortlessness, the ‘impersonal floating world’ of Matisse’s painting, and in reading it, one sees the intricate, omnidirectional workings of the writer’s mind.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

Asked in the Book Critics Circle Blog, what his “favorite reads” of 2006 were, Thomas Mallon replied, “In nonfiction I was left happiest by Patricia Hampl’s Blue Arabesque, an extended essay on the sublime that has all her usual charm and brilliance.”

“Her most sensuous, sinuous, and radiant book to date” Booklist Starred Boxed Review

“Hampl proves to be an authoritative and beguiling guide to the joys of leisure and the intellect.” Publishers Weekly Starred Review

“An artful, affecting memoir whose lessons arrive in a delicious whisper.”
Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

“This tiny, brainy book . . . is a treat.”
Entertainment Weekly EW Pick

“Your search for the sublime can be satis?ed with Patricia Hampl’s resplendent new Blue Arabesque.”
Minnesota Monthly

Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime
ISBN: 0151015066