Hegel's Owl: the Life of Bernard Smith
Hegel's Owl: the Life of Bernard Smith
Sheridan Palmer
Power Publications
ISBN: 9780994306425

In 2008 the prominent Australian art historian Bernard Smith invited writer and art historian Dr Sheridan Palmer to write his biography. Bringing together years of interviews and insight through exclusive access to Smith’s papers and library, Hegel’s Owl deftly reveals the unique character of an exceptional man, today acknowledged by many as the father of Australian art history.

For those interested in Smith and his writings, and the development of art history in Australia, Hegel’s Owl offers a rich exploration of the life of Australia’s foremost art historian and founding director of the Power Institute, Bernard Smith.

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Bernard Smith was educated at the University of Sydney. In 1948 he won a scholarship to study in London, and in 1952 was awarded a research scholarship at the newly established Australian National University, where he completed a PhD. Smith was senior lecturer in the University of Melbourne’s Fine Arts Department, before moving to Sydney where he became the founding Professor of Contemporary Art and Director of the Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. Best known for his pioneering studies European Vision and the South Pacific: A Study in the History of Art and Ideas (1960) and Australian Painting 1788–1960 (1962), Smith also completed outstanding research relating to the voyages of Captain Cook and the artists who sailed with him, culminating in the three-part series The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages, co-authored with Rudiger Joppien. Throughout a long and distinguished career he committed himself to many challenging causes, including urban conservation and Aboriginal Land Rights.

Dr Sheridan Palmer is an art historian and curator. Her previous books include Dean Bowen. Argy-Bargy (Macmillan, 2009) and Centre of the Periphery: Three European Art Historians in Melbourne (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008).

Reviews and Interviews


“Bernard Smith was undoubtedly Australia’s greatest art historian and arguably Australia’s greatest humanities scholar altogether. His European Vision already contains within it all subsequent approaches to Australian art and culture: post-colonial, post-modern, post-national. Sheridan Palmer’s superb biography is detailed, inclusive and at times even properly critical. It not only captures a major figure from our past but, just as importantly, points towards the possible fate of his ideas in the future.”
Professor Rex Butler, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Monash University

“A terrific book which paints the shades of Smith’s interior and exterior worlds and brings to life a brilliant and pioneering Australian intellectual.”
Jos Hackforth-Jones, Director, Sotherby’s Institute, London

“In this carefully researched, vividly written and thoroughly engaging biography, Sheridan Palmer provides an absorbing account of the intellectual and personal journey of Australia’s preeminent historian of art and culture, a scholar with a worldwide reputation. Situating Smith within each of the fields he touched, Palmer also enriches our sense of how Australian culture was built during the twentieth century. By no means a hagiography, this is a full and frank account of a man who saw himself as, in his own words, ‘a bastard among them, taking notes.’”
Terry Smith, Andrew W Mellon Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Permanent link to this page: http://purl.library.usyd.edu.au/sup/hegelsowl.