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Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting

SIWE # 101 Episode 1 , 60 min

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Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting
Program Number


Series Description

Sister Wendy Beckett, British nun and art maven "extraordinaire," is the 67-year-old self-taught "art nun" who guides viewers through each great era of Western art: the cave paintings of Lascaux; the Italy of Leonardo and the Renaissance; Goya's revolutionary Spain; Monet's Giverny and Picasso's Paris; Andy Warhol's New York; and the London of Lucian Freud. The series celebrates the mind, the body, the imagination, and the spirit--the whole profound, intimate experience of being alive that is expressed in great art. 101 "The Mists of Time"/"The Hero Steps Forth"--In her search for the roots of Western painting, Sister Wendy follows in the steps of prehistoric cave dwellers in Lascaux, France; visits the remains of the great ancient civilization Pompeii; and travels to Iona, off the coast of Scotland, where "The Book of Kells" was discovered. In Italy Sister Wendy visits the Arena Chapel in Padua, where in 1300, a shepherd called Giotto revolutionized art; Siena; and the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. In Bruges, Belgium, Sister Wendy considers works by Jan Van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch. 102 "The Age of Genius"/"Two Sides of the Alps"--Sister Wendy traces the beginnings of the Renaissance in the small Brancacci chapel in a Carmelite church that houses Masaccio's "Adam and Eve." In Florence, home of Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli, Sister Wendy reveals the secret of the Mona Lisa. The story moves to Rome, where Sister Wendy looks at the works of Raphael and Michelangelo. In the second half, the focus is the Alps. In the 16th century, the Italian city of Venice took the lead with a succession of geniuses: Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian. In Northern Europe, Albrecht Durer brings a Renaissance flamboyance to his home town, Nuremberg. In Basel, Switzerland, the influence of the early Protestants causes turmoil; Hans Holbein flees to England, where Henry VIII commissions a portrait. 103 "Passion and Ecstasy"/"Three Golden Ages"--In 17th-century Rome, the Reformation forces the church to face its spiritual failure. However, according to Sister Wendy, "The church began to see that painting could be a way of inspiring and invigorating people's faith" -- and the result is art of the Baroque. Sister Wendy considers the genius of Caravaggio, visits the Farnese Gallery to see Caracci's work, and introduces viewers to Artemisia Gentileschi, whose rape as a young girl inspired her to repeatedly paint scenes where a woman avenges herself on a powerful man, such as "Judith and Holofernes." In the second half of the program, Sister Wendy travels to Spain, France, and the Netherlands through the Golden Age of Baroque painting -- from the homes of 17th -- century Dutch masters to the Spanish Royal Court. Vermeer's "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" and Velazquez's "Las Meninas" are among the works considered. 104 "Revolution"/"Impressions of Light"--Sister Wendy examines the period when two dramatic explosions -- the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution -- changed painting, along with everything else. British and French painters, including Gainsborough and Ingres, enter the story. In Spain, Goya documents the atrocities of Napoleon's invasion. In "Impressions of Light," Sister Wendy travels to Paris to visit the haunts of the Impressionists, who broke the rules, and their artistic descendants, the Post-Impressionists, who knew that rules were there to be played with. Sister Wendy looks at the works of some of the most popular names in the story of painting: Monet, Renoir, Degas, Seurat and van Gogh. 105 "A New Pair of Eyes"/"The Never-Ending Story"--The modernist explosion produced art that, Sister Wendy says, "dared to be ugly." Sister Wendy traces the revolution back from its accepted birthplace, Paris, to Cezanne's studio in southern France in "A New Pair of Eyes." The story continues with the constantly changing style of the Spaniard Picasso, who was "about to turn the world of painting virtually upside down," and Matisse, an artist whom Picasso admired, yet felt threatened by. In "The Never-Ending Story," Sister Wendy journeys to the United States to look at the New York School, Pop Art and Minimalism, then returns to Europe and the figurative traditions of the London School. About her favorite mystic artist, the minimalist Agnes Martin, Sister Wendy comments, "Her work communicates such serenity, such joy." She concludes in London with Lucian Freud's naked self-portrait, "Painter Working Reflection."

Series release date: 9/1997

Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Fine Arts
Janows, Jill (Series Producer)
Chicago: “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting,” WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed July 5, 2020, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7B626BD720634FD7B158E0B7EB5FE611.
MLA: “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.” WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. July 5, 2020. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7B626BD720634FD7B158E0B7EB5FE611>.
APA: Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_7B626BD720634FD7B158E0B7EB5FE611
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