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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO (born 28 July 1938) is an Australian-born art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970.
Hughes was born in Sydney in 1938. His father and paternal grandfather were prominent lawyers. Hughes's father, Geoffrey Forrest Hughes, was an aviator in the First World War, with later careers as a solicitor and company director. Geoffrey Hughes died from lung cancer when Robert was aged 12. Robert Hughes's mother was Margaret Eyre Sealy, née Vidal. His older brother, Thomas Eyre Forrest Hughes, is an Australian lawyer and former Attorney-General of Australia.
He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study 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, which is still considered to be an important work. It was published in 1966. Hughes was also briefly involved in the original Sydney version of Oz magazine, and wrote art criticism for The Nation and The Sunday Mirror.
In 1961, an article by a law student, Geoffrey Lehmann, in the Sydney University weekly newspaper Honi Soit noted similarities between specific Hughes poems (including two that had won the Henry Lawson Prize in 1957) and work by Terence Tiller, George Seferis, Alun Lewis and Dylan Thomas. Similarly, a published Hughes drawing was described as resembling one which had appeared in a 1955 international art magazine. The criticism was given wider prominence by the award-winning poet and journalist Elizabeth Riddell in a Daily Mirror article.
Hughes left Australia for Europe in 1964, living for a time in Italy before settling in London (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 obtained the position of art critic for TIME magazine and he moved to New York. He quickly established himself in the United States as an influential art critic.
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 Hughes and Hayes, replacing them with veteran TV host Hugh Downs.
In 1980, the BBC broadcast The Shock of the New, Hughes's television series on the development of modern art since the Impressionists. It was accompanied by a book of the same name; its combination of insight, wit and accessibility are still widely praised.
During the late 1990s, Hughes was a prominent supporter of the Australian Republican Movement.
His 1997 television series American Visions reviewed the history of American art since the Revolution. He was again dismissive of much recent art; this time, sculptor Jeff Koons was subjected to criticism. 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 the near-fatal road accident detailed in the next section.
Hughes created a one hour update to The Shock of the New. Titled The New Shock of the New, the program aired first in 2004.
Hughes married his first wife, Danne Patricia Emerson, whom he met whilst in London in 1967 and was divorced in 1981 in New York. She died of a brain tumour in 2003, having resided outside of Sydney near her son, Danton (30 September 1967–2002), named after the French revolutionary, Georges Danton, the only child from her marriage to Hughes. Danton became a sculptor and lived in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. In 2002, at age 34, Danton Hughes took his own life by gassing himself with his car in the garage. Hughes later wrote: "I miss Danton and always will, although we had been miserably estranged for years and the pain of his loss has been somewhat blunted by the passage of time."
From 1981 until 1996, he was married to Victoria Hughes, née Whistler, a California "art groupie". He writes in his autobiography of the financial toll the divorce was to have on him for years thereafter.
In 2001, Robert married American artist and art director, Doris Downes, well known for her paintings of natural history. He credits her on many occasions, in both his writings and public interviews, for his survival following the near fatal car crash. She flew to Australia to be with him. He said, "Apart from being a talented painter, she saved my life, my emotional stability, such as it is". He has two stepchildren from Downes's previous marriage, Freeborn Jewett IV and Fielder Jewett. They divide their time between a loft in New York City and a home in Briarcliff Manor, New York.
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