Most remembered for a bestselling Australian historical study titled The Fatal Shore, he also worked as a Time magazine art critic and hosted an art-themed television program called The Shock of the New.
After studying architecture and art at the University of Sydney, he worked as an art critic and cartoonist for The Observer.
He hosted a 1990s documentary television series titled American Visions that discussed art produced in the United States from the late Eighteenth Century to the modern day.
His first marriage, to Danne Emerson, resulted in a son named Danton. His second marriage, to Victoria Whistler, lasted from 1981 until 1996. A decade prior to his death, he married his third wife, American painter Doris Downes.
He promoted the work of the German-English psychological portrait painter Lucian Freud.