Sister Wendy Beckett, TV art historian, dies at 88

Sister Wendy Beckett in 1996

TV art historian and nun Sister Wendy Beckett has died at the age of 88, it has been announced.

In the 1990s she became one of the most unlikely television stars.

Emerging from her hermit-like existence in a caravan at a Carmelite convent in Norfolk, she hosted unscripted shows for the BBC from galleries around the world.

Born in South Africa, Beckett moved to Edinburgh as a child, joining a convent when she was 16.

She died at 14:30 GMT at the Carmelite Monastery in Quidenham.

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Media captionSister Wendy speaking about the true meaning of Christmas and iconography (video published in 2010)

In 1950 her order sent her to Oxford University, where she lodged in a convent, and was awarded a Congratulatory First Class degree in English literature.

After obtaining permission to study art in the 1980s – largely through books and postcard reproductions of the great works obtained from galleries – Sister Wendy decided to write her own book to earn money for the convent.

Contemporary Women Artists, published in 1988, was followed by more books and articles.

In 1991 the BBC commissioned her to do a television documentary on the National Gallery.

Dressed in black nun’s habit, Sister Wendy stood in front of paintings, and without script or autocue discussed them to the camera.

Her programmes included Odyssey, Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour and Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.


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