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 BBC shows from galleries across the world.

Born in South Africa, Sister Wendy moved as a child to Edinburgh, where her father studied medicine, joining a convent when she was 16.

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

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

BBC director of arts Jonty Claypole paid tribute, saying Sister Wendy had “a unique presentation style, a deep knowledge of and passion for the arts”.

He added: “She was a hugely popular BBC presenter and will be fondly remembered by us all.”

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

She returned to South Africa in 1954 to teach, but in 1970, with her health deteriorating, the Vatican gave permission for her to pursue a life of solitude and prayer.

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 a book to earn money for her convent.

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

In 1991 the BBC commissioned her to present a television documentary on the National Gallery in London.

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.

Image caption

The Grand Tour took Sister Wendy to cities including Paris, Madrid and Florence in 1996

Image caption

Sister Wendy’s Odyssey showed the unlikely TV star at her caravan in Norfolk in 1992