He died after a long illness, said his wife, Doris Downes.
Hughes, who was born in Sydney, worked in London before moving to New York in 1970 where he made his name as an art critic for Time magazine, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
"They wanted somebody who could actually write about art in a way that wasn't - but here I sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet - in a way that was not condescending and it was intelligible to people who were not art experts," he said in 2006.
Hughes became as familiar a presence on television as he was in print, in columns over three decades for Time magazine, where he served as chief art critic and often as a traditionalist scourge of fashionable trends. "The Shock of the New," his eight-part documentary about the development of modernism from the Impressionists through Warhol, was seen by more than 25 million viewers when it ran originally on BBC in 1980, and Hughes spun off a book from it.
"The Fatal Shore," his epic 1987 history of Australia - which he left in the mid 1960s - became an international bestseller. And Hughes continued to write ambitiously and prolifically, on beloved subjects like Goya, Lucian Freud, Barcelona - and himself - even after a near-fatal car crash in Australia in 1999 left him with numerous health problems. "Things I Didn't Know," a memoir, was published in 2006 and "Rome," his highly personal history of the city he called "an enormous concretion of human glory and human error," was published last year.
Speaking on ABC Radio, Australian MP Malcolm Turnbull, whose wife is Hughes' niece, said: "Bob really opened up the eyes of Australians to their history in Fatal Shore."
Lucy Turnbull said: "He was the most fabulous and fantastic uncle anyone could have had."
She paid tribute to his wide range of interests, and his "Australian larrikin" sense of humor.
"He was actually a real man's man - he was a hunter, a shooter and a fisher," she said. "He was a dazzling performer in the kitchen, as he was at the typewriter."