Patrick McCaughey awarded Honorary Doctorate
Chancellor Ms Elizabeth Alexander conferred the degree, "for his contribution to art history
and to Australian cultural life" and read the following citation:
Patrick McCaughey is one of the most eminent and admired art historians in Australia and the
United States. At the age of ten, he emigrated with his family from Dublin to Melbourne, when
already his genial Irish humour was a formidable part of his personality.
Educated at Scotch College and Ormond College, he graduated from the University of
Melbourne with distinction in Fine Arts and English. In 1966, he made his popular reputation
as art critic for The Age where he promoted sixties abstraction that led to creating the climate
for The Field, the innovatory exhibition about Australian Modernism that opened the new
National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road by Roy Grounds in 1972.
Among Australian artists, his friends were Leonard French, Roger Kemp, Fred Cress, Robert
Jacks, Jan Senbergs and, above all, Fred Williams. After a year in New York on a Harkness
fellowship, he returned to Melbourne to become foundation professor of Visual Arts at Monash
University in 1972.
There, as a very young professor, he established the first department to specialise in
contemporary art in Australia. He involved himself in projects of national good, such as the
creation of the professional association of art history in Australia.
Like his mentor, the first professor of Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne, Joe Burke,
Patrick was a success with contemporary artists, both as the creator of exhibitions and as a
critic. In 1980, he published the classic monograph on the work of one of Australia's greatest
artists, Fred Williams, two years before the artist died. The work has been revised and
expanded three times, in 1987, 1996 and 2008, to provide the basis for the outstanding
exhibition, currently at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
In 1981, he was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, where he is
remembered as the most admired director of that institution, for his acquisitions and for his
policies. Patrick made the institution and the director loved by the press and the public. He
invented the concept of the Internal Blockbuster, with exhibitions based on the gallery's
collection, beginning with The Great Eighteenth Century Exhibition (1983), successive
exhibitions on Sidney Nolan, the first by Richard Haese, The City and the Plain (1983) and
with Jane Clark, Landscapes and Legends: A Retrospective Exhibition 1937-1987 (1987).
In 1990, he returned to America as the Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University,
shortly after which he was appointed Director of the Wadsworth Athenaeum Gallery in
Connecticut, a museum that contains distinguished collections of contemporary American art
and seventeenth century Italian art. Successively, he became director of the Yale Centre for
British Art, where he introduced exhibitions of outrageous contemporary British art to the quiet
public of New Haven.
In his retirement, he has published his memoir, The Bright Shapes and the True Names
(2003), which provides the best account of undergraduate life at Melbourne University in the
early sixties, as well as a genial account of his own career. In 2006 the Miegunyah Press
published his book, Voyage and Landfall: The Art of Jan Senbergs, whose career mirrors Patrick's
From his undergraduate years until the present, Patrick McCaughey has been intensely
concerned with Australian culture and literary life. He has become the preferred reviewer for
the Times Literary Supplement on Australian exhibitions and art, in a way that is unique. For
Australian newspapers and journals he is equally in demand as an engaging reviewer, as
shown by his writing for the Australian Book Review.
For his contribution to art history and to Australian cultural life, I present Patrick McCaughey,
Hon D.Lit of Monash University, Hon DFA of the University of Hartford, for admission to the
degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.