An elegant and powerful study, finely crafted—fully worthy of its subject.’

Peter Beilharz, Curtin University, Perth



In 2008, 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: The Life of Bernard Smith 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.



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).



‘Art teacher, artist, art historian, art critic, museum official, curator, university administrator, academician, collector, patron, and art theorist – Bernard Smith did it all, and then more: he was also a brilliant memoirist, a political polemicist, a cultural commentator, and a community activist. 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 of Contemporary Art History and Theory, University of Pittsburgh; author of Contemporary Art: World Currents (Laurence King, 2011) and What is Contemporary Art? (University of Chicago, 2009).


‘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.’

Rex Butler, Professor, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Monash University; author of Radical Revisionism (IMA, 2005), Borges’ Short Stories: A Reader’s Guide (Bloomsbury, 2010) and A Secret History of Australian Art (Craftsman House, 2002)


‘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, Sotheby’s Institute, London; author of Art and Authenticity (Ashgate, 2012).



424 pages
23.4 x 15.3cm
60 photos
Available 26 May 2016