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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Robert Hughes - Nothing if not critical

2001
Bill Leak

oil on canvas (frame: 177.0 cm x 192.0 cm)

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).

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2002
© Estate of Bill Leak

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Bill Leak (age 45 in 2001)

Robert Hughes AO (age 63 in 2001)

Related information

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Robert Hughes - Nothing if not critical
Robert Hughes - Nothing if not critical
Robert Hughes - Nothing if not critical
Robert Hughes - Nothing if not critical

Heart of Darkness

Magazine article by Magda Keaney, 2002

Magda Keaney talks with Bill Leak about his bold new portrait of Robert Hughes in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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