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Robert Hughes

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Robert Hughes, who was a trenchant art critic, essayist, and historian of Australia, has died at the age of 74.

As Time magazine's art critic for three decades starting in 1970, Mr. Hughes reached as many readers as any critic in the English language. With two well-received BBC series tied to books about modern and American art, he reached vast TV audiences, too.

. . .In hosting "The Shock of the New," which was a BBC series, Mr. Hughes was as unpredictable as the modern art he presented. The most recent epoch of Western art, Mr. Hughes narrated, "is finishing its run now, leaving behind it some of the most challenging, intelligent works of art ever made by man, along with a mass of superfluity and rubbish."

"American Visions," Mr. Hughes' history of art in North America from the 16th Century, was "a love letter to America," he said.

Mr. Hughes was born in Sydney. His ancestors included a superintendent of convicts at the penal colony there as well as a mayor of Sydney. He studied art, dabbled as an abstract painter, and drew political cartoons for newspapers. This led to his becoming an art critic. He later produced a well-received history, "The Art of Australia."

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Hughes joined an emerging generation of journalists including Germaine Greer and Clive James who emigrated to London in search of wider literary vistas.

. . .In 1986, he published "The Fatal Shore," an epic account of the founding of Australia. . .

It's a great book. You get a real sense of an informed and bracing mind, unafraid of following the facts even if they lead into politically incorrect minefields. He valued beautifully made things - fishing rods as well as paintings.

Alas, his personal life was full of minefields.

Ave atque Vale.

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