Sister Wendy Beckett, who gained fame in the 1990s for television shows and books explaining art, died Dec. 26 in Norfolk, England. She was 88.
She has been widely described as both an unlikely art critic and television star, but that may have been what made her all the more likeable.
Discussing Michelangelo’s marble Pieta in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica, Sister Wendy said this of the Renaissance sculptor: “He’s awesome. He’s the Colossus of art.”
She entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur when she was 16 and died where she had long lived, on the property of a Carmelite monastery. Sister Wendy was released from her vows to the order in the 1970s to live a contemplative life as a hermit.
She continued to wear her full-length black habit and told reporters after she gained fame for her down-to-earth descriptions of famous works of art: “I am a nun. I will always be a nun.”
Sister Wendy, who studied English literature at Oxford University, was introduced to the world in the early 1990s after she agreed to present a series on art for the British Broadcasting Corp. based on her books about art, including “Contemporary Women Artists,” published in 1988.
In 1991, she hosted a series for British television called “Sister Wendy’s Odyssey,” followed a year later by “Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour” and “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting” in 1996. Initial shows focused on museums across England and Scotland, and then she visited famous works of art in Paris, Rome and Amsterdam. In her final show, she crossed 30,000 miles, visiting works of art throughout Europe, the Middle East and the United States, viewing everything from cave paintings in France to modern art in the United States.
In a 2011 interview with Catholic News Service, she said she was thrilled with two books she had just written that were her most Catholic: “The Iconic Jesus,” a study of icons of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and “The Art of the Saints,” which reflects on the religious significance of the images of 16 saints.