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Just out of college, Patricia Hampl was mesmerized by a Matisse painting she saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. This woman seemed a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood, free and untouchable, a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism. In Blue Arabesque, Hampl explo Just out of college, Patricia Hampl was mesmerized by a Matisse painting she saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. This woman seemed a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood, free and untouchable, a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism. In Blue Arabesque, Hampl explores the allure of that woman, immersed in leisure, so at odds with the increasing rush of the modern era. Her tantalizing meditation takes us to the Cote d’Azur and North Africa, from cloister to harem, pondering figures as diverse as Eugène Delacroix, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Katherine Mansfield. Returning always to Matisse and his obsessive portraits of languid women, Hampl discovers they were not decorative indulgences but surprising acts of integrity.   Moving with the life force that Matisse sought in his work, Blue Arabesque is a dazzling tour de force.


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Just out of college, Patricia Hampl was mesmerized by a Matisse painting she saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. This woman seemed a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood, free and untouchable, a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism. In Blue Arabesque, Hampl explo Just out of college, Patricia Hampl was mesmerized by a Matisse painting she saw in the Art Institute of Chicago: an aloof woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl, a mysterious Moroccan screen behind her. This woman seemed a welcome secular version of the nuns of Hampl’s girlhood, free and untouchable, a poster girl for twentieth-century feminism. In Blue Arabesque, Hampl explores the allure of that woman, immersed in leisure, so at odds with the increasing rush of the modern era. Her tantalizing meditation takes us to the Cote d’Azur and North Africa, from cloister to harem, pondering figures as diverse as Eugène Delacroix, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Katherine Mansfield. Returning always to Matisse and his obsessive portraits of languid women, Hampl discovers they were not decorative indulgences but surprising acts of integrity.   Moving with the life force that Matisse sought in his work, Blue Arabesque is a dazzling tour de force.

30 review for Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”The woman’s head is about the size of a fishbowl and is on its level. Her eyes though dark, are also fish, a sly parallelism Matisse has imposed. Her steady eyes are the same fish shape, fish size, as the orange strokes she regards from beneath the serene line of her plucked brows. The woman looks at the fish with fixed concentration or somnolent fascination or---what is the nature of her fishy gaze that holds in exquisite balance the paradox of passion and detachment, of intimacy and distance? ”The woman’s head is about the size of a fishbowl and is on its level. Her eyes though dark, are also fish, a sly parallelism Matisse has imposed. Her steady eyes are the same fish shape, fish size, as the orange strokes she regards from beneath the serene line of her plucked brows. The woman looks at the fish with fixed concentration or somnolent fascination or---what is the nature of her fishy gaze that holds in exquisite balance the paradox of passion and detachment, of intimacy and distance? I wonder still. I absorbed the painting as something religious, but the fascination was entirely secular. Here was body-and-soul revealed in an undivided paradise of being. An adult congruence, not the cloudy unity of childhood memory. A madonna, but a modern one, ‘liberated,’ as we were saying without irony in 1972. Free, even, of eros. Not a woman being looked at. This woman was doing the looking.” I didn’t know I was a fan of Henri Matisse’s art until I saw it in “the paint,” in the flesh as it were. I’d seen his artwork in books. He’d been well covered in an art history class I took in college. Reproductions of his art do not, of course, capture the brush strokes, but they also fail to convey the boldness of his colors. I was in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when I saw Woman with a Hat, and The Girl With Green Eyes. I was gobsmacked. This experience actually scared me because I’d determined what artists I liked and didn’t like on faulty information. I’ve always been a Van Gogh fan, but now I suddenly questioned whether what I felt about his paintings was true. Fortunately, when I finally did get a chance to see his art, I was even more stunned by the deep trenches of his brush strokes and the vibrant chrome yellow. A print of his painting Wheatfield With Crows hangs in my office as a testament to my continued enjoyment of his work. So I understood that moment that Patricia Hampl expressed in the opening quote of seeing a painting as it was meant to be seen and finding the experience life changing. The other part of that quote that set me back on my heels for a moment was ”This woman was doing the looking.” I’d never thought about that before. Beautiful women have proved to be muses for painters, comic book artists, writers, video game programmers, and musicians...well...since man first drew stick figures on a wall or wrote a poem in the dirt with a branch or banged the bottom of a pot and found he could make different sounds. Men have always wanted to be good at something so as to impress the pretty girl, and what would impress the pretty girl more than anything than to immortalize her in a painting, or a story, or a song, or how about a video game? Here was a woman who was not just the subject of a painting so that we could gaze upon her loveliness, but a woman temporarily mesmerized by the movements of fish trapped in a bowl. What I can’t stop looking at is the intensity of her gaze. This is a rambling book about things that are important to Hampl. A Search for the Sublime is the subtitle of this book, and part of that search is to understand what is important to her. So what is the secret to being creative, or to finding fulfillment? "’Can you say,’ I once inquired of a sixty-year old cloistered nun who had lived (vibrantly, it seemed) from the age of nineteen in her monastery cell, ‘what the core of contemplative life is?’ ‘Leisure,’ she said, without hesitation, her china blue eyes cheerfully steady on me. I suppose I expected her to say, ’Prayer.’ Or maybe ‘The search for God.’ Or ’Inner peace.’ Inner peace would have been good. One of the big-ticket items of spirituality. She saw I didn't see. ‘It takes time to do this,’ she said finally. Her ‘this’ being the kind of work that requires abdication from time's industrial purpose (doing things, getting things). By choosing leisure she had bid farewell to the fevered enterprise of getting-and-spending whereby, as the poet said, we lay waste our powers.” When I think about the amount of time I spend each day in the quest for money, it makes me queasy. Making money is about the most boring thing to do in the world; and yet, we’ve made it so necessary. The cost of things like houses, cars, college, and healthcare have kept me firmly shackled to a treadmill. To escape is impossible. To even rest is courting disaster. I hear words like “downshifting,” and I get a little excited, but I realize that I’ve traveled so far down this road that my only possible way to escape is to shift up and mash the gas pedal to the floor. I’m told that someone will descend from a cloud when I make my final payments and hand me a key to unlock the chains around my bloody shin. I will have laid waste to my powers. So it is too late for me. I’ve cast my pearls before swine, but for the rest of you should really consider carefully what it means for you to feel like you have fulfilled your promise to the world and to yourself. A friend of Hampl’s family, a brilliant woman who made her choices of what was good based on her own ”personal taste and whim” rather than accepting what academia had told her was good (radical concept), gave Hampl two books by a woman named Katherine Mansfield. She was a New Zealander who had escaped that beautiful, though restrictive island, to lead a bohemian lifestyle in Paris. To discover Katherine was like discovering herself. Hampl became more than just a fan of the writing. ”She favored...little jackets of ‘lovely colours and soft velvet materials’: soon my style as well, though my latter-day velvets draped over faded jeans. Mine was the moist devotion of a cultist, not the frank pleasure of a reader.” I had a similar feeling about Robert Louis Stevenson, and though I never emulated the way he dressed, I did grow a mustaches and let my hair grow out. I was in a bookstore in California one time, and the bookseller said to me: “Do you know you resemble RLS?” I couldn’t have been more pleased, although I felt our greatest resemblance at that time was our shared gauntness and our expanse of forehead. Another interesting cosmic connection was the discovery that RLS has the same birthday as my father. I felt just that much closer to the man. For a small book, it inspired a lot of interesting memories and connections for me. It explores our relationship with art and books and how we find ourselves by discovering what we like and what is most important to us. Time has been on my mind a lot lately, and her pursuit of the most precious commodity...the leisure to ponder... is certainly a Holy Grail concept for me. Mansfield died tragically young at 34 from a pulmonary haemorrhage after running up a flight of stairs. Stevenson also died very young at 44 of a cerebral haemorrhage after struggling to open a bottle of wine (quite possible a presentiment of my own death :-)) Both suffered ill health for most of their lives and moved far from where they were born with the hopes of finding good health. They both loved life and wanted more of it. I began this review with a gaze, and I will end with a gaze. I’ve seen this picture many times over the years, and when Hampl mentioned it in her book, I had to look it up again. I’m struck by the look on the model Zita’s face as she gazes at Matisse or possibly past him. I’ve interpreted the look on her face many different ways, but I have settled on pensive as if the invasion of the cameraman to snap this moment in time has discomforted her. You might finish this book and be unsure about how you feel about it, but as I have discovered I am haunted by it. I already had to flip back through it to discover exactly what Virginia Woolf said about Mansfield’s writing after her death. There are interesting nuggets scattered throughout the text that will prove to be sirens calling me back, and they may even lead me down new paths to discover more about my preferences and what makes me…me. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    J

    This book was not meant to annoy me. I realize that now. There are some beautiful passages and insight, but it wandered too much for me. I wanted to be swept away by it – and I am. But only now, a week after finishing it, as I find myself dipping back in, dog-earing pages and underlining sentences. For me, its power is latent. But perhaps it’s more effective because of that. Somewhere along page one Hampl introduces the thought that I, personally, may not have the fortitude for the relaxed conve This book was not meant to annoy me. I realize that now. There are some beautiful passages and insight, but it wandered too much for me. I wanted to be swept away by it – and I am. But only now, a week after finishing it, as I find myself dipping back in, dog-earing pages and underlining sentences. For me, its power is latent. But perhaps it’s more effective because of that. Somewhere along page one Hampl introduces the thought that I, personally, may not have the fortitude for the relaxed conversational meanderings of this book. Me! I can sit on my arse poetica and ruminate for hours. The nuns at school used to nudge one another and ask “Is she breathing?” Later I would feign sickness as a means of escape. A book carefully hidden beneath the pillow of the sickroom could be read without interruption. Later still, I spent my mornings judging the perfect balance of badness. The proper offenses that would place me just this side of the fine line between in-school detention and outright suspension. Those in-school suspensions were grand things. Golden days that stretched before me with nothing to do but just what I wanted. Have I lost that carelessness with time? I hadn’t thought so. People who've had to wait on me while the clock ticks the wasted minutes away would say no. And yet it’s not the same thing. My only obligation then was to do nothing and so I did something. I filled my Trapper Keeper with drawings and poetry. Not great art, but I was practicing. Practicing being absorbed in a way that the day-to-day doesn’t allow. For moderns – for us – there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals onto the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. Just taking our time, as we say. That is, letting time take us. Modern? Me? Hardly, Ms Hampl. (For the record that’s from page eight, not one. It takes her eight pages to get to there. Not that I’m impatient or bored or counting pages or anything.) From page eight she goes on to explain why I do fall squarely in the category of post-modern, like it or not. How our ways of thinking and looking and even creating are different now. I’d like to read to you pages eight through twelve, but that would take too long. Unfortunate because I’m not good at synopsis and a thumbnail sketch can only hint at the full beauty of a painting. Ah, but had we world enough and time… It’s a journey. Hampl takes us through convents, art museums and the artist’s studio, into the seraglio, from Chicago to Africa, to Nice and Vence, and, finally, into Matisse’s Chapel of the Rosary there – another convent. It’s about art. The art of painting, capturing essence on canvas with line, the art of leisure – and it is an art, the leisure required to create, the leisure required to see. And it’s about the desire for a calling, a passion, a “private endeavor” as Hampl calls it. A search for the sublime.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Somewhere around the time when I expected to die young like Patricia Hampl's beloved Katherine Mansfield, the High Museum here in Atlanta had a wondrous Matisse exhibit. As an art history student, I'd been aware of the artist's work, but I truly discovered him back then with an epiphany similar to the one that started poet and essayist Hampl on the journey of this book. I remember gazing at the vivid paintings with rapture. Hampl's Blue Arabesque charmed me most, I believe, because it completely Somewhere around the time when I expected to die young like Patricia Hampl's beloved Katherine Mansfield, the High Museum here in Atlanta had a wondrous Matisse exhibit. As an art history student, I'd been aware of the artist's work, but I truly discovered him back then with an epiphany similar to the one that started poet and essayist Hampl on the journey of this book. I remember gazing at the vivid paintings with rapture. Hampl's Blue Arabesque charmed me most, I believe, because it completely described the Matisse odalisque phenomena without tearing away the mystery of the images. Hampl follows her love for Matisse beautifully. She describes the Western odalisque beginning with Ingres and Delacroix, earlier French artists, and investigates these sensuously cloistered women of the East. This West to East, North to South journey all started with Hampl's accidental encounter with Matisse's The Woman Before an Aquarium at the Art Institute of Chicago. That painting became the namesake of her first book of poetry. This book is a memoir of seeing, reading and writing, of leisure and pleasure. I have my own Matisse odalisque, The Bathers, three women arranged against a seascape. It moves me beyond words with its color and delicate reserve. Perhaps, after reading this lovely book, I'll see more when I gaze at it again. This book also taught me things I didn't know about the American Midwest, Katherine Mansfield and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is a feast of the imagination.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Betsy McTiernan

    I'm so glad I stumbled on Blue Arabesque, A Search for the Sublime. Hampl's motivation for the book is a Matisse painting--Woman Before an Aquarium--that stopped her dead in her tracks the summer after college when she was dashing through the Chicago Art Institute on her way to meet a friend. For years she collected bits and pieces of information about Matisse until she decided to fully indulge her obsession and attempt to figure out the power this work. Her journey leads her to study Matisse's I'm so glad I stumbled on Blue Arabesque, A Search for the Sublime. Hampl's motivation for the book is a Matisse painting--Woman Before an Aquarium--that stopped her dead in her tracks the summer after college when she was dashing through the Chicago Art Institute on her way to meet a friend. For years she collected bits and pieces of information about Matisse until she decided to fully indulge her obsession and attempt to figure out the power this work. Her journey leads her to study Matisse's odalesques, to trace his steps from Northern France to the sunny south. She considers the role of leisure in the life of artists, and reflects on what is meant by the sublime in the arts. The result is a masterfully-structured personal narrative that has the loose-limbed feel of a long journal entry. It isn't necessary to share Hampl's obsession and artistic preferences to enjoy this book. If you enjoy witnessing the meanderings of an intelligent mind in action, you will love this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Patricia Hampl is an eclectic writer, mainly of personal essays and memoirs. She is most recently known for her memoir The Florist's Daughter. Her writing is personal and interesting, thoughtful and beautiful. In Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime Ms. Hampl is interested in creativity and the life needed to pursue it. The idea of the sublime she's talking about here is not sublime in the religious sense although there is a hint of that in the concent she visits, but sublime in the awe-insp Patricia Hampl is an eclectic writer, mainly of personal essays and memoirs. She is most recently known for her memoir The Florist's Daughter. Her writing is personal and interesting, thoughtful and beautiful. In Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime Ms. Hampl is interested in creativity and the life needed to pursue it. The idea of the sublime she's talking about here is not sublime in the religious sense although there is a hint of that in the concent she visits, but sublime in the awe-inspiring sense - what the artist or writer seeks in his or her work. She spends most of her musings on Matisse and his odalisques as well as the models who posed for him, his search for the perfect light, his mastery of rich color. She brings in many of her personal favorites also. Her girlhood heroine, the writer Katherine Mansfield and the perfect short story, The Garden Party, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jerome Hill, an award-winning documentary maker from her hometown. All of these artists have something to add to this discussion but especially Matisse. They all are drawn for different reasons to the south of France. Nice. Cassis. It ends with a trip to the convent where Matisse's last model, still alive, has been a nun for most of her life. There are surprises in this search and beauty.

  6. 5 out of 5

    PBurmeister

    I highly recommend this book to the right reader. Do not be misled by its title and subtitle, which imply the book is a philosophical inquiry into the subject of the sublime. This book is really a memoir, a collection of meandering essays tied together by the author's exploration of related experiences and an assured writing style. Patricia Hampl is a wonderful writer in all aspects. For example, she has done enough research on Henri Matisse, Jerome Hill, Katherine Mansfield and a complement of o I highly recommend this book to the right reader. Do not be misled by its title and subtitle, which imply the book is a philosophical inquiry into the subject of the sublime. This book is really a memoir, a collection of meandering essays tied together by the author's exploration of related experiences and an assured writing style. Patricia Hampl is a wonderful writer in all aspects. For example, she has done enough research on Henri Matisse, Jerome Hill, Katherine Mansfield and a complement of others to place her personal search within interesting contexts. Her writing has a delicious tempo, moving along like the way a creek finds its course, with a kind of patient inevitability. I kept marking up the pages of my copy, noting great paragraphs and sentences. To the interested reader: take your time with this book; not because it is a difficult read, but because it is such a pleasurable read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    Slow at first for me to get into, by halfway through I was thinking "I want to reread this" and by the end "I want to collect a hardback copy," the latter a unique response for me. A meditation on art, looking, and on the reflective life needed to make art, Blue Arabesque moves from story to story—about paintings and creators and writing that Hampl loves—without feeling like a collection of essays. It is itself a unified work of art about one writer's love of artistic expression. It is classed b Slow at first for me to get into, by halfway through I was thinking "I want to reread this" and by the end "I want to collect a hardback copy," the latter a unique response for me. A meditation on art, looking, and on the reflective life needed to make art, Blue Arabesque moves from story to story—about paintings and creators and writing that Hampl loves—without feeling like a collection of essays. It is itself a unified work of art about one writer's love of artistic expression. It is classed by its publisher as a memoir but while deeply personal and with memoiristic aspects isn't exactly. More like a book-length essay. Blue Arabesque has an ineffable watercolor quality that arises, I would say, because it is especially rich in implication. With a deft touch, Hampl has created a book as beautiful as its title.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    A gift, I had never heard of this book nor its author. I opened the book last night, just to take a look, to read the inside dust jacket text. Now, the next day, I have just finished it. The jacket says "meditation on the odalisque." That is neither what I would say nor what would call out to me. But I am at a loss at how to describe this book, this kind of memoir but only 200 pages of her life. But Matisse, visible or not, is nearby on every page. Already in love with Matisse, having followed h A gift, I had never heard of this book nor its author. I opened the book last night, just to take a look, to read the inside dust jacket text. Now, the next day, I have just finished it. The jacket says "meditation on the odalisque." That is neither what I would say nor what would call out to me. But I am at a loss at how to describe this book, this kind of memoir but only 200 pages of her life. But Matisse, visible or not, is nearby on every page. Already in love with Matisse, having followed him around the world, especially France and Morocco, I became an admirer of the author as she did some of the same exploration, not always in person. Her writing is wonderful, evocative, informed....what a horrible, wrong word for what I'm trying to say. " I am made of all that I have seen." Matisse, as quoted by the author.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    A book I've had for a few years and fortuitously chose to read now, Hampl's Search for the Sublime captivated me. Her musings over observation, creativity, and travel, all as part of the artistic process, mirror my own feelings and she is a wonderful user of words - I will re-read this one! Feb 1, 2009 Re-reading 10 years later-February 2019. Leaving a winter reading group at the Grand Marais Art Colony with a focus on creativity, inspiration, dedication, and critique. 10 years ago this book was a A book I've had for a few years and fortuitously chose to read now, Hampl's Search for the Sublime captivated me. Her musings over observation, creativity, and travel, all as part of the artistic process, mirror my own feelings and she is a wonderful user of words - I will re-read this one! Feb 1, 2009 Re-reading 10 years later-February 2019. Leaving a winter reading group at the Grand Marais Art Colony with a focus on creativity, inspiration, dedication, and critique. 10 years ago this book was an inspiration, now, in 2019, it is an affirmation. Still splendid!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Utterly utterly perfect. Hampl combines art and beauty and truth and faith and geography and... life. A good life. And naturally, for a person raised in the catholic tradition, it seems to come together in chapel. Oh, this book. I've fallen in love with a new author. I connected with her on a level that I connect with so few authors. A wonderful read. But it takes time. Consider it a mini vacation as you savor every single word on the page. Utterly utterly perfect. Hampl combines art and beauty and truth and faith and geography and... life. A good life. And naturally, for a person raised in the catholic tradition, it seems to come together in chapel. Oh, this book. I've fallen in love with a new author. I connected with her on a level that I connect with so few authors. A wonderful read. But it takes time. Consider it a mini vacation as you savor every single word on the page.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jean Grant

    Patricia Hampl's gift is clarity. Although her thoughts in Blue Arabesque may be "highbrow," they're never intimidating or boring. Her epigraph is Matisse's "I am made of all that I have seen." This is as true for her voice as the artist's life--her elegant sentences don't shun homespun words like "crummy," "wobbly," "get it." It makes for an exhilarating read, this confidence and abundance. Patricia Hampl's gift is clarity. Although her thoughts in Blue Arabesque may be "highbrow," they're never intimidating or boring. Her epigraph is Matisse's "I am made of all that I have seen." This is as true for her voice as the artist's life--her elegant sentences don't shun homespun words like "crummy," "wobbly," "get it." It makes for an exhilarating read, this confidence and abundance.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Nordquist

    This was a memoir of aesthetics, and I was fascinated by it. Parts of it were just stunning. Other parts were more elusive in their connection to the whole. I have recommended it to art lovers in my life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ken Hada

    I am very much impressed with Patricia Hampl's ability to simultaneously inform and inspire, to revel, reveal and resist. Her explication of Matisse and Katherine Mansfield, among others, is thoughtful and enjoyable to read. I am very much impressed with Patricia Hampl's ability to simultaneously inform and inspire, to revel, reveal and resist. Her explication of Matisse and Katherine Mansfield, among others, is thoughtful and enjoyable to read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adrianne Mathiowetz

    Full disclosure: my stepmom is good friends with the author of this book. Parenthetical disclosure: seemingly unrelated to this fact, I stumbled upon Hampl's "Resort and Other Poems" book in a used bookstore in college, and devoured it, and continue to redevour it regularly to this day, like a DELICIOUS CUD I CANNOT GET RID OF. Ever since, the few times I've seen her around I've been all awkward and starry-eyed, amazed she remembers my name. But, to be honest, this book didn't really do it for me Full disclosure: my stepmom is good friends with the author of this book. Parenthetical disclosure: seemingly unrelated to this fact, I stumbled upon Hampl's "Resort and Other Poems" book in a used bookstore in college, and devoured it, and continue to redevour it regularly to this day, like a DELICIOUS CUD I CANNOT GET RID OF. Ever since, the few times I've seen her around I've been all awkward and starry-eyed, amazed she remembers my name. But, to be honest, this book didn't really do it for me. It had some lovely passages in it: each sentence was well-written, each paragraph was well-written. But I'm still puzzling over its overall message and structure. A lot of the anecdotes seemed overly tangential, so that it read like a pure collection of footnotes loosely tied to this idea of the sublime. First we're talking about Matisse's odalisques: now we're talking about other artists in Matisse's time, now Hampl is traveling and getting ill in the desert, now, bam, Jerome Hill and his autobiographical film. So it was a book that was hard to get into, with no real discernible common narrative, plot or story: I do think it had a thesis, but I needed that to hit me over the head more often. But then, as a final disclosure, I was really hoping for this to just turn into a book of poetry.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Hotavio

    Some of the subjects I found interesting in this book: Matisse, Turkish baths, Ingres, odalisques and Orientalism. The things I found less so: everything else. Patricia Hampl relays mental meanderings after being intrigued by Matisse's Woman Before an Aquarium , which led her into his other works, mostly a his series of odalisques. This provokes much thought on the theme of leisure and its various meaning east and west, religious and secular. Much of the thought is personal as Hampl gets into h Some of the subjects I found interesting in this book: Matisse, Turkish baths, Ingres, odalisques and Orientalism. The things I found less so: everything else. Patricia Hampl relays mental meanderings after being intrigued by Matisse's Woman Before an Aquarium , which led her into his other works, mostly a his series of odalisques. This provokes much thought on the theme of leisure and its various meaning east and west, religious and secular. Much of the thought is personal as Hampl gets into her personal heroes in a variety of arts. Unfortunately, the book couldn't advance my interest enough in the subjects unknown to me. There were a few parts that I enjoyed not directly related to Matisse, however. Particularly Hampl's foreign experiences. She speaks from a midwestern perspective and her divergence from tourist groups lead her to some eye opening lessons on the eastern mindset.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Liz Pardey

    Miss Hampl is a practitioner of the essay, a thoughtful, wandering consideration. She starts with the moment she saw Matisse's "Woman in front of aquarium" and goes back to her convent school in St Paul, MN, Flaubert, Jerome Hill, Cassis, France, odalisques, harems. Virginia Woolf -- in no particular order. She is always literate, personal, learned, wise. Her sentences are intricate and sometimes take a bit of unraveling but it is well worth any effort. She describes Matisse' work as "Divine non Miss Hampl is a practitioner of the essay, a thoughtful, wandering consideration. She starts with the moment she saw Matisse's "Woman in front of aquarium" and goes back to her convent school in St Paul, MN, Flaubert, Jerome Hill, Cassis, France, odalisques, harems. Virginia Woolf -- in no particular order. She is always literate, personal, learned, wise. Her sentences are intricate and sometimes take a bit of unraveling but it is well worth any effort. She describes Matisse' work as "Divine nonchalance" and that seems a perfect epithet for her work as well.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Antonia

    Art, travel, leisure . . . Matisse and his models . . . I loved the sections on Marseille and Cassis, places I've visited. It was good to see them through Hampl's eyes, admittedly those of a tourist, but a thoughtful, artistic one. Art, travel, leisure . . . Matisse and his models . . . I loved the sections on Marseille and Cassis, places I've visited. It was good to see them through Hampl's eyes, admittedly those of a tourist, but a thoughtful, artistic one.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mim

    I loved this book. The fact that I visited many of the places she talks about made it really alive for me. A terrific writer.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    I was at the Art Institute and saw this painting and was all "wow, I could,like, write a book about this painting", and then I went down to the gift shop and found that Patricia Hampl already had. I was at the Art Institute and saw this painting and was all "wow, I could,like, write a book about this painting", and then I went down to the gift shop and found that Patricia Hampl already had.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lenny

    Delightful and insightful memoir. Touches on Matisse and perceptions of southern France, on Katherine Mansfield.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    Nice book to be able to pick up and peruse a chapter at a time. Not the best for a book club. More contemplative and for the person who is not as connected with art.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Schemehorn

    As I began reading this, I thought the name of the author sounded familiar, and it turns out, she had written a memoir (Art of the Wasted Day) that I DNFed. In summary, this was a personal essay, possibly no more than 3 essays, that were expanded unnecessarily. Stories that were immediately personal to her were written well enough, but much of the other information, chiefly biographical, was monotone, and a lot of her speculation could have been fact if her research had been more than superficial As I began reading this, I thought the name of the author sounded familiar, and it turns out, she had written a memoir (Art of the Wasted Day) that I DNFed. In summary, this was a personal essay, possibly no more than 3 essays, that were expanded unnecessarily. Stories that were immediately personal to her were written well enough, but much of the other information, chiefly biographical, was monotone, and a lot of her speculation could have been fact if her research had been more than superficial.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I enjoyed this book and much of it resonated with me, although, for me, it would have benefited from a narrative through-line, or else something that circled back around to the "search for the sublime" more clearly and regularly. I enjoyed this book and much of it resonated with me, although, for me, it would have benefited from a narrative through-line, or else something that circled back around to the "search for the sublime" more clearly and regularly.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    If you are interested in tracing the life of Matisse, then you won't be disappointed. If you are hoping to learn more about the influence Matisse, and in particular the odalisques, had on the author's personal journey, you will be disappointed. If you are interested in tracing the life of Matisse, then you won't be disappointed. If you are hoping to learn more about the influence Matisse, and in particular the odalisques, had on the author's personal journey, you will be disappointed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jwt Jan50

    Read this in parallel with Hellenga's Sixteen Pleasures; one art/travel fiction and one art/travel nonfiction. Really enjoyed Blue Arabesque. Love to learn through someone else's eyes and journey. Led me to a lot of research on Mansfield and Matisse. Read this in parallel with Hellenga's Sixteen Pleasures; one art/travel fiction and one art/travel nonfiction. Really enjoyed Blue Arabesque. Love to learn through someone else's eyes and journey. Led me to a lot of research on Mansfield and Matisse.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Elena

    Hampl is a broad thinker who has honed her writing skills into a sublime craft. Pun intended. Mesmerizing and provocative exploration of travel as escape, and seeing with new eyes in a more vibrantly alive way... I’m no writer, but Hampl moves me with her fine craft!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karenbike Patterson

    The author stops to contemplate a Matisse painting of a woman at leisure. She decided this is not self-indulgence. It is integrity. A whole book on this? I don't think so. The author stops to contemplate a Matisse painting of a woman at leisure. She decided this is not self-indulgence. It is integrity. A whole book on this? I don't think so.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gail Kennon

    less meaty for me than others i've read by her but still worth reading for interesting observations and always good writing. less meaty for me than others i've read by her but still worth reading for interesting observations and always good writing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maggi Schock

    Just not my type of read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Natacha Pavlov

    "The inspiration artists seek is surely not all a matter of location location location, but there must be a reason why artists and writers keep wandering about, seeking the Right Place." "A form of love, to be so at ease in the frantic world, to be so at peace in the presence of beauty." Patricia Hampl's 'Blue Arabesque' was an enjoyable, quick contemplation of the act of seeing and the creative process. Through her experience of seeing Matisse's 'Woman Before a Fish Bowl,' she explores the allur "The inspiration artists seek is surely not all a matter of location location location, but there must be a reason why artists and writers keep wandering about, seeking the Right Place." "A form of love, to be so at ease in the frantic world, to be so at peace in the presence of beauty." Patricia Hampl's 'Blue Arabesque' was an enjoyable, quick contemplation of the act of seeing and the creative process. Through her experience of seeing Matisse's 'Woman Before a Fish Bowl,' she explores the allure of such examples of the lounging woman, immersed in leisure, so at odds with the rush of the modern era. She mentions several of her travels (often connected to Matisse somehow), and her visit to the Holy Land resonated in different ways. She more recently released 'The Art of the Wasted Day,' which sounds like another for the TBR.

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