His publisher, Random House, says he died Monday in New York, where he had lived for many years.
Hughes was best known for his bestselling epic book about Australia called "The Fatal Shore," published in 1987. He wrote for Time magazine as art critic for more than three decades.
His eight-part documentary about art history, "The Shock of the New," aired on BBC television and was seen by more than 25 million viewers. He later wrote a book based off the film that was well-received by critics.
Other books included the 2006 memoir "Things I Didn't Know" and last year's "Rome," a personal history of the Italian city.