The Story of Painting – Sister Wendy Beckett


This is not a book for reading, it’s a reference book to keep to hand. Years ago, I saw Sister Wendy’s documentary series on TV and this book is an elaborated version of that. At the time I saw her as unexpectedly (for a nun, and that’s a judgment I probably wouldn’t make now) robust in her approach to the subject matter of many paintings and also the lifestyles of some of the artists. But watching them again as a refresher and I can see that she wasn’t entirely innocent of passing judgement herself. Some women in the pictures have ‘mean, pinched little faces’ for instance, and from this impression she infers character. Once noticed, this is quite hard to ignore.

Nevertheless, this is a sumptuous book full of large and colourful illustrations and insightful text. It is heavy only in its physical weight because of Sister Wendy’s knack with light touch language. If you need an instant reference for art from Egyptian times to the mid 20th century (Sister Wendy died in 2018), this is it.

Beckett, W. (2001) The Story of Painting: enhanced and expanded edition. Dorling Kindersley Ltd.

This text is a copy of my review on the Goodreads site.

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