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HALL OF FAMEon 29 June 2005
How bizarre...
...and yet, how wonderful. Who would have ever thought that a nun going through the museum would have (a) been interesting, (b) been publishable, (c) been television-worthy, or (d) been within the realm of credible imaginings? And yet, here is the proof, on my coffee table. Sister Wendy's smiling face, next to a scowling Vincent, greets me each day with my morning cocoa.
This is a book to be savoured. It cannot, like the morning cocoa, be rushed and enjoyed. This must take time. Not because the text is dense or confusing--indeed, it is not. It is lively, witty, historical, accessible, all that one could want in a book on art.
But, mostly, it is exquisitely visual in layout. Everything is photographed and reproduced in stunning colour and low-gloss format to make the pages vibrant and durable yet easily seen. Care has gone into the production of this volume. None of the art is reduced to black and white, but rather presented in glorious colour. With over 800 images in under 400 pages, this is a feast for the eyes. Each page is dominated by art, not text. That makes for slow moving, like reading a museum..
Sister Wendy Beckett takes us on an historical tour of painting (in the European theatre of history), beginning with prehistoric cave-art and drawings, leading up to modern and post-modern artists.
She takes representative pieces, such as the Bosch painting of Death and the Miser to illustrate points of colour, detail, composition, and story. Some paintings have complex stories (such as this one), others have simple composition (such as the `innocently disadvantaged' Mona Lisa) which give endless speculation as to the meaning.
Sister Wendy explores each era of artistic history, listed below in broad categories (there are several subcategories of each), giving history and philosophy as well as major and representative minor works, explaining in detail at least one or two works for each, concentrating on painting, but also bringing in as relevant sculpture, stained glass, architecture, and other artistic media.
+ Art of the Ancient World
+ Gothic Painting
+ Italian Renaissance
+ Northern Renaissance
+ Baroque and Rococo
+ Neoclassicism and Romanticism
+ The Age of Impressionism
+ Post-Impressionism
+ The Twentieth Century
Sister Wendy does an admirable job at not concentrating exclusively on religious and Christian art (for being a nun), however, given the history of art in Europe, this is a major theme in its own right.
The Epilogue, says Sister Wendy, 'is both an afterword and a foreword: hundreds and thousands of artists come after the disappearance of the `story line' into the maze of contemporary artistic experience and these same artists may of course, be the forerunners of a new story.' In concluding her volume, she highlights the paintings of Robert Natkin, Joan Mitchell and Albert Herbert, the art of each she hopes will endure.
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on 7 September 2001
This book is a must for all art history students. It traces the beginnings, through to a brief look at modern art. I am currently studying art history and have found this book, essential to my research on mythology and biblical myths and information. Sister Wendy Beckett suceeds in presenting this book in a clear and non-jargon manner, easily understood and very informative. Selected areas of the book, look at particular paintings and how they are constructed as well as the meanings behind them. The biblical references throughout early paintings are explained fully and i found this especially appealling. This book has certainly helped me, no end in my studies, and look forward to other titles by the author.
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on 18 March 2015
My copy of this had formerly belonged to Shropshire County Libraries. Bought for £25 only five years ago, it had been borrowed precisely 12 times before being stamped 'Discarded' in 2013. There's a moral there - whether about wasteful procurement, or the even more wastefully stupid 'austerity', I'm not sure.

Still, Shropshire Libraries' loss is my gain - mostly. This is by no means 'The World's 100 Greatest Paintings'; prominent absentees include Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Prodigal Son, Starry Night and - perhaps most surprisingly - Whistler's Mother. The Mona Lisa gets only a passing glance, and Michelangelo's Last Judgement is reduced to a four-inch square - a completely futile exercise. But Sister Bendy (I can't help thinking of her as that, a la Eurotrash) consistently offers insight without pretension; in fact she comes across better in print than on the telly.

I do part company with her, though, when she gets to the mid-C20th. In my opinion she gives undue credit to modern art and artists. The debate about whether the Emperor is really wearing any clothes has of course rumbled on for years: 'Imposters!' shout the one side, 'Philistines!' the other. It's hard to accept that someone with such a lively appreciation of Byzantine and Gothic art can really think that abstract expressionism is worth bothering with. 'An immensely intellectually satisfying work'? Come on love, it's just a big yellow rectangle. On the other hand there is no mention of Lowry, as you would certainly expect from a book with a British perspective.

The thing is that many of the artists in question are American. Call me cynical but that might have something to do with the book's marketing, and particularly with the fact that it was produced 'in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC'. Americans are notoriously indifferent to anything in which they cannot claim - however unconvincingly - to be the main attraction. It's noticeable that, though C20th works are praised, none of them are selected for more detailed analysis. Was Sister Wendy, or 'contributing consultant' Patricia Wright, given a gentle nudge in their direction by the publishers - could this part of the book even have been ghost written?
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HALL OF FAMEon 23 November 2005
How bizarre...
...and yet, how wonderful. Who would have ever thought that a nun going through the museum would have (a) been interesting, (b) been publishable, (c) been television-worthy, or (d) been within the realm of credible imaginings? And yet, here is the proof, on my coffee table. Sister Wendy's smiling face, next to a scowling Vincent, greets me each day with my morning cocoa.
This is a book to be savoured. It cannot, like the morning cocoa, be rushed and enjoyed. This must take time. Not because the text is dense or confusing--indeed, it is not. It is lively, witty, historical, accessible, all that one could want in a book on art.
But, mostly, it is exquisitely visual in layout. Everything is photographed and reproduced in stunning colour and low-gloss format to make the pages vibrant and durable yet easily seen. Care has gone into the production of this volume. None of the art is reduced to black and white, but rather presented in glorious colour. With over 800 images in under 400 pages, this is a feast for the eyes. Each page is dominated by art, not text. That makes for slow moving, like reading a museum.
Sister Wendy Beckett takes us on an historical tour of painting (in the European theatre of history), beginning with prehistoric cave-art and drawings, leading up to modern and post-modern artists.
She takes representative pieces, such as the Bosch painting of Death and the Miser to illustrate points of colour, detail, composition, and story. Some paintings have complex stories (such as this one), others have simple composition (such as the 'innocently disadvantaged' Mona Lisa) which give endless speculation as to the meaning.
Sister Wendy explores each era of artistic history, listed below in broad categories (there are several subcategories of each), giving history and philosophy as well as major and representative minor works, explaining in detail at least one or two works for each, concentrating on painting, but also bringing in as relevant sculpture, stained glass, architecture, and other artistic media.
+ Art of the Ancient World
+ Gothic Painting
+ Italian Renaissance
+ Northern Renaissance
+ Baroque and Rococo
+ Neoclassicism and Romanticism
+ The Age of Impressionism
+ Post-Impressionism
+ The Twentieth Century
Sister Wendy does an admirable job at not concentrating exclusively on religious and Christian art (for being a nun), however, given the history of art in Europe, this is a major theme in its own right.
The Epilogue, says Sister Wendy, 'is both an afterword and a foreword: hundreds and thousands of artists come after the disappearance of the 'story line' into the maze of contemporary artistic experience and these same artists may of course, be the forerunners of a new story.' In concluding her volume, she highlights the paintings of Robert Natkin, Joan Mitchell and Albert Herbert, the art of each she hopes will endure.
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on 24 April 2010
This is art book to be treasured and look at again and again. Of course it is subjective interpretation of paintings but it opens readers mind to do individual guesses.
For example: is the candle on the picture just a candle or a symbol of the spirit? We can't know for sure over 500 years later. But each of us can decide for himself
what does it mean. Therefore we need writers to explain visual art to us, to feed our imagination.
THE STORY OF PAINTING is beautifully laid out and ventures gently into literature of the period depicted in the artwork.
I am looking foreword to lazy hours with this perfect friend "The story of painting".
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on 20 October 2014
Bought this second hand as a reference book to be read at intervals. The book is in excellent condition , much better than I had expected so money very well spent especially comparing the price for a new one. I watched some of the TV docs. that Sister Wendy did ages ago and wish there were similar programmes on TV today.
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on 12 September 2013
I had a copy of this book given to me as a gift by my brother (now deceased). It was a precious possession which sadly was lost last year when someone sank the converted barge on which lived. I was therefore delighted to find that I could get a copy, which although second has, was described as new and which has lived up to the description. Now I can once more browse this lovely book, and enjoy Sister Wendy's excellent presentation of the history of Western Art and hopefully increase my knowledge of the subject. It will be treasured.
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on 5 June 2013
Sister Wendy's 'Story of Painting' was a book I discovered when I was in the doldrums.
I had seen one television programme on art presented by her which convinced me she
could really communicate the beauty of art so I bought this book. I was not disappointed
and thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover.

It has sparked a passion for the History of Art which I followed up by doing a correspondence
course for which this book by Sister Wendy was a very helpful resource.
It tells an inspiring story of human creativity and the heart and soul captured in Art.
I do hope it gets reprinted with a cover like this one with Sister Wendy surrounded by
amazing paintings.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2015
This book is based on the author’s 1996 television series but has subsequently been ‘enhanced and expanded’ to fill 736 pages. Over 450 works are illustrated in colour with almost 200 being considered in some depth, which makes this a must for anyone interested in the ‘story’ of painting as opposed to its ‘history’.

Sister Wendy’s is a story that describes the thread of two-dimensional visual art from prehistoric times to Robert Natkins’ “Farm Street” of 1991. She makes no attempt to overlay this with excessive layers of scholarly [value] judgement, meaning and order. The chronological approach covers sections devoted to ‘Painting before Giotto’, ‘Gothic Painting’, ‘The Italian Renaissance’, ‘The Northern Renaissance’, ‘Baroque and Rococo’, ‘Neoclassicism and Romanticism’, ‘The Age of Impressionism’, ‘Post-Impressionism’ and ‘The 20th Century’. There is a one-page Glossary and an Index.

Each section is further sub-divided into distinct art historical elements; for example, ‘Painting before Giotto’ is split into three parts, ‘The First Paintings’, ‘The Ancient World’ and ‘Early Christian and Medieval Art’, whilst the complexity and divergences of ‘The 20th Century’ yields seventeen parts that include Art Movements (such as ‘Fauvism’, ‘Expressionism’, ‘Abstract Expressionism’, ‘American Colourists’ and ‘Pop Art’) as well as addressing ‘Artistic Emigrés’, ‘The Age of Machinery’ and ‘Paul Klee’.

The colour reproductions range in size from about 1”x2”, with the vast majority being quarter to full page, to double page spreads and greatly expanded details that allow the reader to see brushstrokes [as in Matisse’s “Madame Matisse, Portrait with a Green Stripe”, 1905, and Soutine’s “Landscape at Ceret”, c. 1920-21] and other facets [such as the black outlining and shading in Léger’s “Two Women Holding Flowers”, 1954]. This is not always successful, as with the indistinct expansion of Bonnard’s “The Bath”, 1925. However, others such as Caravaggio’s “The Lute Player”, c. 1596, and Guercino’s “Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery”, c. 1621, are spellbinding.

The author engages and empowers the reader, periodically dissecting a work [for example Giotto’s “The Kiss of Judas”, c. 1305-6; Leonardo’s “Ginevre de’Benci”, c. 1474; Dürer’s “Four Apostles”, 1523-26; Velásquez’ “Las Meninas”, 1656; Gainsborough’s “Mrs Richard Brinsley Sheridan”, 1785/6, and Manet’s “The Bar at the Folies-Bergère”, 1882 – an approach that is more difficult to pursue in later, Modernist works] considering its individual elements in a manner that enhances overall appreciation. Her knowledge of iconography and symbolism enable the reader to understand better the painter’s intention.

The overall colour quality is good although the definition and colour values are not up to the very best. However, they certainly do not detract from the quality of the overall reading experience. All too often ‘introductions’ to art in general and painting in particular include too many b/w illustrations that themselves limit understanding and appreciation. The layout has been designed with obvious thought; pages are bright, white and glossy, the contrast with the print is excellent and many pages have insightful sidebars.

From the section on ‘Gothic Painting’, each contains a Timeline describing key artistic achievements of the period; the inclusion of contemporary historical or political events might have offered a wider context that would help to demonstrate how the period influenced and informed artistic development. The reproduction on the front cover is “The Lovers”, 1923, by Picasso.

Painting can be a very intimidating world to break into with its jargon and social expectations. Too easily these can cause the viewer or reader to believe that their ignorance is a permanent barrier to understanding. There is no sense of ‘talking down’ to the reader and the aim is clearly to give reader sufficient background to visit a gallery or exhibition, or read a more advanced text. Its size, of course, means that it will reside in the home or library, rather than be carried around as an aide-memoire.

There may be quibbles about the inclusion of this or that artist and the exclusion of another, but this book probably does as well as is possible. Similarly, the size of the book justifies its focus on two dimensional works rather than sculpture and installations, and on Western art.

Sister Wendy’s engaging televisual style is very well transferred to print and I can imagine a reader finding this book very useful both for dipping into or for reading chronologically. It might also be used by parents or older people to encourage younger, or less experienced, people to become aware of art as a means to appreciating it and, finally, loving it.
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on 9 March 2015
Bought following memories of watching Sister Wendy on TV an found as enlightening as she is herself. The pictures are of such a size that you can readily immerse into them and the text is light but informative. Especially good as it adds insight into what we see by also explaining what we don't see i.e greeks tendency to paint onto wood.
Highly recommend as an introduction into art or simply as a quick capture snapshot of what has been created.
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