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Robert Hughes
, late 1970s

by Louis Kahan

pen and ink on paper (sheet: 54.3 cm x 37.9 cm)

Robert Hughes AO (1938-2012), historian and critic, was one of one Australia’s best-known public intellectuals. Like many of the figures who floated around the Sydney ‘Push’ in the late 1950s, he began his career contributing poems, cartoons, criticism and articles to Honi Soit, the Observer and Nation. He began working for Time magazine in 1970, the year his The Art of Australia was published, and henceforth lived in the USA; he was the senior art critic for Time until 2001 and continued to contribute review articles to that publication for some years. His books include The Shock of the New (1980, also a television series), The Fatal Shore (1987), Nothing if Not Critical (1990), Barcelona (1992), American Visions (1997, also a television series) and A Jerk on One End (1999), the title of which refers to his love of fishing. In 1999, just after beginning to film his television series on Australia Beyond the Fatal Shore, Hughes suffered a terrible car accident on the coast of WA. The series was cobbled together during his agonising convalescence, and Hughes had little control over the final cut, but its negative reception led to his remark that for all he cared, they could ‘tow Australia out to sea and sink it’. Named the London Sunday Times Writer of the Year in 2000, he proceeded to write Goya (2003) and a superb autobiography, Things I Didn’t Know (2006).

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 1998
Accession number: 1998.21