Robert Hughes AO (1938-2012) was the senior art critic for Time magazine and one of Australia’s famous expatriates of the 1960s. Born in Sydney, Hughes was educated at Riverview and Sydney University, although he did not complete a degree. 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 in 1970, the year his The Art of Australia was published, and lived in the USA for the rest of his life. His books and television series include The Shock of the New (1980), The Fatal Shore (1987), Nothing if Not Critical (1990), American Visions (1997) and A Jerk on One End (1999), the latter about 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 Western Australia. The series was cobbled together during his agonising convalescence, and Hughes had little control over the final cut; it was hostilely reviewed. The accident led to a protracted legal process; three years later, there was still talk of extraditing Hughes from the USA to face charges. His second marriage broke down, and his only son died. The effect of these experiences on his friend led Leak to abandon his earlier, more detailed portrait for this one, inspired by the terrifying late work of Goya, conveying Hughes’s furious pain, despair and determination in the years after 1999. Named the London Sunday Times Writer of the Year in 2000, Hughes proceeded to write Goya (2003) and a superb autobiography, Things I Didn’t Know (2006).
Accession number: 2002.24
More about the artist and subject
Robert Hughes (1938-2012)
You have probably already heard that the esteemed Australian art critic, author, and historian Robert Hughes recently passed away in New York.
Magazine article, Portrait 5
Heart of Darkness
Magda Keaney talks with Bill Leak about his bold new portrait of Robert Hughes in the National Portrait Gallery collection.
Permanent collection catalogue
On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.