Robert Hughes (critic) bigraphy, stories - Australian critic, historian, writer

Robert Hughes (critic) : biography

28 July 1938 - 6 August 2012

Robert Studley Forrest Hughes AO (28 July 19386 August 2012) was an Australian-born art critic, writer, and producer of television documentaries. His best seller The Fatal Shore (1987) is a study of the British penal colonies and early history of Australia. He was described by Robert Boynton of The New York Times as "the most famous art critic in the world." Hughes earned widespread recognition for his book and television series on Modern art, The Shock of the New, and for his longstanding position as art critic with Time magazine. Known for his contentious critiques of art and artists, Hughes was generally conservative in his tastes, although he did not belong to a particular philosophical camp. Raising criticism to the level of art, his writing was noted for its power and elegance.

Early life

Hughes was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1938. His father and paternal grandfather were lawyers. Hughes's father, Geoffrey Forrest Hughes, was a pilot in the First World War, with later careers as a solicitor and company director. He died from lung cancer when Robert was aged 12. His mother was Margaret Eyre Sealy, née Vidal. His older brother, Thomas Eyre Forrest Hughes, is an Australian lawyer and a former Attorney-General of Australia.

Growing up in Rose Bay, Sydney, Hughes was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before studying arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the group were Germaine Greer and Clive James. Hughes, an aspiring artist and poet, abandoned his university endeavours to become first a cartoonist and then an art critic for the Sydney periodical The Observer, edited by Donald Horne. Around this time he wrote a history of Australian painting, titled The Art of Australia, published in 1966 and still considered an important work. Hughes was also briefly involved in the original Sydney version of Oz magazine and wrote art criticism for The Nation and The Sunday Mirror.



Hughes left Australia for Europe in 1964, living for a time in Italy before settling in London in 1965, where he wrote for The Spectator, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and The Observer, among others, and contributed to the London version of Oz. In 1970 he was appointed art critic for TIME magazine and moved to New York, where he soon became an influential voice.

Hughes and Harold Hayes were recruited in 1978 to anchor the new ABC News (US) newsmagazine 20/20. His only broadcast, on 6 June 1978, proved so controversial that, less than a week later, ABC News president Roone Arledge terminated the contracts of both men, replacing them with veteran TV host Hugh Downs. Hughes co-produced, in association with German producer Reiner Moritz and Lorna Pegram, the BBC eight-part series The Shock of the New (1980), on the development of modern art since the Impressionists. It was accompanied by a book with the same title. John O'Connor of The New York Times said, "Agree or disagree, you will not be bored. Mr. Hughes has a disarming way of being provocative".

Hughes's book The Fatal Shore followed in 1987. A study of the British penal colonies and early European settlement of Australia, it became an international best-seller. During the late 1990s, Hughes was a prominent supporter of the Australian Republican Movement. His TV series American Visions (1997) reviewed the history of American art since the Revolution. Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore (2000) was a series musing on modern Australia and Hughes's relationship with it. During production, Hughes was involved in a near-fatal road accident. Hughes's documentary on Francisco Goya, Goya: Crazy Like a Genius (2002), was broadcast on the first night of the new British domestic digital service, BBC Four. He created a one-hour update to The Shock of the New, titled The New Shock of the New, which first aired in 2004. He published the first volume of his memoirs, Things I Didn’t Know, in 2006.

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