Obituaries USA

Robert Hughes has died, aged 74

Pugnacious art critic, best-selling historian and aspiring artist as a young man

Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes, the Australian art historian and critic, died on 6 August, aged 74. He was born and educated in Sydney and left the country in 1964. He eventually became the chief art critic of Time magazine, living for many years in New York, and frequently appearing on television. In 1980, he created the acclaimed eight-part documentary series “The Shock of the New” and, in 1997, “American Visions”, respectively histories of modernism and art in the US; his book, The Fatal Shore, 1987, gave an account of Australia's early history. Hughes was often acidic and pugnacious in his reviews and articles, especially about some contemporary art, and his abusive attack in 1999 on those who were involved in a car accident in which he was seriously injured badly dented his reputation. He published the first volume of his memoirs, Things I Didn’t Know, in 2006.

As a young man he aspired to be an artist, declaring that "painting is my whole life—there is nothing else". His first solo show was in Sydney in 1961 and he also exhibited alongside many of Australia’s leading artists. But not everyone felt Hughes was God’s gift to painting. Patricia Anderson, in her unauthorised biography Robert Hughes: the Australian Years, included this blunt critique: “As a painter he is a phoney among phonies,” the writer Judah Waten said in a letter to the artist Noel Counihan in 1965.

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30 Jul 14
22:10 CET


I have come late to the knowledge of Robert Hughes, and am dismayed to know that he is gone and that I cannot write to him to express my opinion of the demise of art in today's world. I would have liked to know what he thought of the artist (name mercifully forgotten) who used feces as his medium and whose work was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum amid great fanfare and slavish obsession with the meaning of it all and his obvious "greatness". Despite efforts to sustain this movement, it died, a tribute to true lovers of art who stayed away in droves.

6 May 13
21:1 CET


Donald Lee, why criticise a man unnecessarily who achieved so much in his lifetime? Robert Hughes was not afraid to say what he thought. He was straightforward and honest. He learnt about art from looking and experiencing the real stuff. He did not regurgitate or learn from studying books or sitting in a lecture hall somewhere. And that is what makes him great. He saw with a clarity we rarely see anymore. By calling him a bully as in the previous comment just shows ignorance. His life achievements should be celebrated for he achieved much, and always with courage and confidence. Credit where credit is due. Robert you are missed.

13 Sep 12
19:4 CET


The positive contributions of Robert Hughes should be left to the literati because he was, without exception, an excellent historian, as in The Fatal Shore and Rome. His books on artists Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach were mostly love letters to friends in London whom he admired. In the context of The Art Newspaper, Donald Lee should be commended for his objective views on Hughes' life that have all been overlooked. Not all of his movements have been 'elegant and masterly'. Yes, he has had many of these moments but they must be carefully balanced with his bullying of many artists and his elitism over the lesser mortals. Speaking of lesser mortals, I'm going to count to three and you have to name just ONE female artist Hughes has admired and has bothered to bolster their careers in the way he has with men......1, 2, 3......I thought so. If you want to criticize Hughes universally, let's agree that he was an out-of-touch misogynist.

24 Aug 12
16:15 CET


I second Emma and Slawek, what a sour little obituary neatly teamed with an unflattering photograph

13 Aug 12
16:37 CET


What a waste of an obit. Hughes was a much better man than the writer of this article allows. Being rude about Hughes doesn't make you his equal.

13 Aug 12
14:52 CET


I really loved his last polemic film "The Mona Lisa Curse". I suspect it was his goodbye kiss to the art world. Such as it is.

10 Aug 12
16:20 CET


As if it mattered whom he wanted to be at his 18 or 20 rather than whom he became. And he was marvelous, inspiring, gifted and individual art critic and writer. That malignant article indicates how Hughes must've been hated in the art world.

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