Robert Hughes 1938-2012

This is more sad news. When young, my admiration for Hughes’ art criticism was immoderate – I used to tote around my copy of Nothing If Not Critical like a relic – and I can still remember the moment when I read this sentence (from a review of an exhibition of Renaissance drawings, I believe, and I’m quoting from memory, because my copy of the book is in the garage somewhere [ed. Not any more: it was a review of an exhibition of Hans Holbein the Younger, and the quote is corrected]):

No-one, we may confidently predict, will ever draw this well again.

Nobody, one may morosely predict, will ever draw the human face as well as this again.

…and realised that Hughes’ rhetorical talent allowed him to say things which were unfounded or silly (ever again? Why? And how could we possibly know?) but which would slide past the distracted reader while his ego was being stroked by that tone of magisterial complicity.

An early disappointment, well remembered, and I was never able to fully trust Hughes afterwards: agreeing with him is too delicious.

Hitchens, Vidal, Hughes: all authors who aimed at a patrician hauteur, with varying degrees of success; all known as contrarians; all safely members of the Establishment. There’s a somewhat tacky book on the twilight of the neo-Augustans in the offing.

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