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Top 10 Most Famous Damien Hirst Paintings & Art as of 2023
October 19, 2022
Before we get into discussing the most famous and expensive paintings and art pieces by Daniel Hirst, it is important to understand his background, and the influence it had on his artwork throughout the years.
Introducing Daniel Hirst
On 7th June 1965, painter and sculptor Damien Hirst was born in Bristol, England. Little did his Catholic parents know at the time that he would go on to become one of the richest living artists of all time before he had even reached his fifties.
This piece looks back on his rich and storied career, from his early days as an eccentric installation artist, to the present day where his name sits alongside Warhol and Banksy as one of modern art’s most recognizable and marketable commodities.
Hirst’s Early Life
Growing up in Leeds with a strong religious background has played a key role in Damien’s most famous paintings and artwork, but also in most of his art pieces. His mother describes him as having been a “morbid child”, and during his teenage years, he was an avid fan of illustrated pathology books that showed graphic images of disease and injury.
In this adolescent period, he demonstrated an interest in drawing, which was supported by his mother. Later in life, death would go on to be an ever-present theme in his paintings and artwork, both in his most famous and less known pieces.
He went on to study art at Goldsmiths College at the University of London. His time there included a notable exhibition titled ‘Freeze’ in 1988, which broke new ground and led to the development of the emerging ‘Young British Artists’ group of artists, including Tracey Emin. Despite being a student exhibition, Freeze had a high production value and its catalogue was funded by a number of property developers.
With his collective, the focus was on using unusual materials and complex art concepts. In his early work, ‘With Dead Head’, Hirst explored death as a topic. The gruesome photograph sees the artist smiling next to a severed head in a morgue.
Daniel Hirst didn’t suit everyone’s tastes, but Charles Saatchi – a famous and avid art collector and advertising mogul – supported him financially, providing patronage to the young artist and buying many of his paintings and artworks.
With strong financial backing, Hirst was ready to explore some of the more ambitious projects he’d dreamed up throughout his formative years.
Damien Hirst’s Artwork & Paintings
In 1990, he produced ‘A Thousand Years’, which was a provocative tank piece containing a fly-covered cow head and maggots. Saatchi was said to be so impressed that his jaw hit the floor when he saw it, and he bought it on the spot…this is still one of Daniel Hirst’s most famous art work to date.
By 1991, Hirst was exhibiting solo, and held his first exhibition at the Woodstock Street Gallery in London. In addition to this, he showed his work at the Young British Artists show the following year when it was held at the Saatchi Gallery. This included his infamous 14-foot-long glass tank with a shark preserved in formaldehyde inside, titled ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’.
When this famous artwork sold many years later, the shark had decayed so badly that Daniel Hirst offered to restore the art piece. This involved catching another shark and preserving it in formaldehyde, disposing of the original shark, and replacing it. This naturally led to discussions about whether it was actually the same artwork, though that did not affect the $8m sale price, making it one of the most expensive and famous art pieces by Damien Hirst.
Daniel Hirst’s famous artwork and paintings regularly captured the imagination and attention of the art world, in both positive and negative ways. Emboldened by the success of his shark installation, Hirst debuted his piece ‘Mother and Child Divided’ at the 1993 Venice Bienniale. It involved a cow and its calf cut in half, which was displayed in four different glass cases and preserved with formaldehyde. This allowed visitors to walk through the middle of the two animals and see their insides. Fast gaining a reputation, he was awarded the Turner Prize on the back of the piece in 1995.
Alongside these yet most famous controversial glass tank art pieces, Daniel Hirst also started to gain notoriety for his paintings and sculptures. These included pieces such as the 2002 ‘Lullaby, the Seasons’, which involved lots of pills on shelves, and ‘For the Love of God’ from 2007, which was a platinum cast of a human skull from the 18th century covered in diamonds. This famous and expensive artwork piece – which he valued at £50m – was decried by many in the art world as a vulgar oddity, though it certainly has its admirers. It is not definitively known whether or not he was able to sell the piece.
Thanks to his esteemed career, visionary imagination, and business-savvy know-how, Hirst has crafted a famous art empire and become one of the wealthiest artists alive today. He is considered alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Jasper Johns.
Daniel Hirst’s most famous artworks, paintings, and sculptures always sell for a premium; ‘The Black Sheep With the Golden Horn,’ a sheep immersed in formaldehyde, its horns painted gold, sold for $4.1m at auction in Sotheby’s, the 2008 shark installation ‘The Kingdom’ sold for $15.3m, and ‘Lullably Spring,’ a wall hung piece made from thousands of pills, sold for $17m.
Hirst continues to exhibit globally and lives in Devon, England, with his girlfriend and three sons.
So, what are Hirst’s Top 10 Most Famous Paintings & Art as of 2023
1. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
The inspiration behind the most famous Damien Hirst paintings and art is well-known: death. Hirst has famously been quoted as saying, “Death’s just something that inspires me, not something that pulls me down. I used to get called morbid at school. I have always loved horror films; I like being frightened.” And this certainly exemplifies what’s going on in the most famous Damien Hirst artwork.
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is undoubtedly one of the most famous Damien Hirst paintings, if not his most famous. It’s certainly an enigmatic piece. Hirst preserved a tiger shark in formaldehyde and displayed it in a display case crafted from glass panels. The expression on the shark’s face is an eerie, terrifying look into the literal jaws of death.
While not a painting in the traditional sense of the word, Hirst’s artwork is frequently outside the realms of regular artistic mediums, and that’s what makes them so enigmatic. Interestingly, the original piece deteriorated due to natural decomposition and has since been replaced. While this would, for any other artist, be a catastrophe, for Hirst, it is oddly complementary to his overarching theme; even as we try to preserve an image of death, the inevitability of it continues.
2. End of an Era
Next in the lineup of most famous Damien Hirst artworks has to be End of an Era. This sculpture features the severed head of a bull, his horns adorned with a disc of solid gold. While it’s certainly one of the more famous pieces, it’s also one of the most expensive Damien Hirst art pieces.
The juxtaposition of life and death, fear and love, malady and physical decay, is what made Hirst so famous. Or possibly infamous. Dead animals perfectly preserved using formaldehyde, animal carcasses, and diamonds are certainly an unconventional way of gaining notoriety.
As with the tiger shark seen in the last piece, this one is suspended in a formaldehyde solution that’s encased in a golden vitrine. While it’s a visually striking piece, Hirst’s aim in creating it was to represent the worship of a false idol. It was created in conjunction with another very well-known piece of his, ‘The Golden Calf’.
3. The Golden Calf
Speaking of which, ‘The Golden Calf’ is well deserving of its own entry on this list and is another piece crafted and placed in a solution of formaldehyde. As with End of an Era, the intention of this piece was to represent worship, and as such, the hooves and horns of the calf are made from gold.
The calf also features its own golden disk resting between its horns. This disc bears the markings of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love and protection. Hathor was also known as a goddess of beauty and presided over music, dancing, other pleasurable activities, and fertility.
Arguably the crown jewel of Hirst’s work, The Golden Calf has an estimated value of between £8 and 12 million. This may be one time when a piece is literally worth its weight in gold. At the time it was placed in the formaldehyde aquarium, the calf was only 18 months old. The gold elements, including horns, hooves, and the Hathor disc, are 18-carat gold.
Hirst was seeking to examine the relationship between idols and his contemporaries. The piece weighs a hefty 10 tons and sold for the impressive price of £10 million.
4. Away From The Flock
One of the most enigmatic works by Hirst, Away From The Flock features another glass-walled tank filled with formaldehyde. The way Hirst posed the sheep is what lends the piece its vision, as it appears the be both alive and in the middle of jumping through the air.
While many of the most famous Damien Hirst paintings feature preserved animals, it is Away From The Flock that best captures the dichotomy of life and death.
As with The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living (arguable the most famous Damien Hirst artwork), Away From The Flock succumbed to deterioration and had to be remade. Three versions of the sculpture have been created in total, with the two replacement versions mimicking the pose of the original.
The intention behind the piece was to capture a state of being removed or disconnected from the living world.
5. For The Love of God
Another glittering effigy of death created by Hirst, For The Love of God presents the viewer with a bejewelled human skull. Crafted from platinum, the skull is a perfect replica of the human skull and includes a set of real human teeth. The surface of the skull has been encrusted with diamonds, making this one of the most expensive Damien Hirst art pieces ever made.
It’s also one of the most eye-catching. The skull sits atop a black pedestal, which stands at eye level to most adults, against a black backdrop. With so many diamonds encrusted into the scull, the light reflection around it, offset by the black surroundings, is incredibly effective. All those diamonds sparkle with light, even as the darkness surrounding them tries to extinguish it.
One of the most famous Damien Hirst paintings to feature real butterflies, Eternity was the first – and for many remains the best – depiction of these fluttery-winged insects. The painting features a ‘kaleidoscope’ of butterflies depicted in a range of colours and sizes. In creating the piece, Hirst sought to create a sense of balance while conveying the eternal beauty of butterflies captured in death.
Central to the piece is a reflection on the ephemeral nature of life, both for an inset and their human observers. The use of the title ‘eternity’ seems to take on an almost mocking tone, with the fleetingly short life of such beautiful creatures, and the eternal preservation of that beauty in death poignantly brought into focus.
Paradoxically, despite the ephemeral nature of the pieces, Eternity sold for almost £4 million and gained extensive exposure on the art scene, not to mention a permanent place in mainstream art history.
7. Lullaby Spring
A divergence from Hirst’s usual use of natural elements in the creation of his pieces, Lullaby Spring has been meticulously crafted from coloured pills and displayed in a cabinet. The name of the piece is drawn from the colours used in creating the display. Hirst has arranged each pill to create a springtime colour palette that is both haunting and ethereal to behold.
While Hirst created a set of four cabinets in this ilk, collectively called the Lullaby Seasons, it is Lullaby Spring that remains the most famous Damien Hirst artwork from the set.
8. Memories of Moments With You
Another of the most expensive Damien Hirst art pieces created, Memories of Moments With You features a cabinet of diamonds. The cabinet was crafted from stainless steel, which was then coated in gold, and accented by glass, nickel, aluminium, and cubic zirconia, which act as the ‘diamonds’. The gold plating of the cabinet creates the perfect backdrop for the sparkling enchantment of the ‘diamonds’.
9. Here Today Gone Tomorrow
A return to the formaldehyde format Hirst is most famous for, Here Today Gone Tomorrow is crafted from fish and fish skeletons, artfully displayed and preserved in the solution.
A divergence from his other pieces, the glass cabinet that houses this one is in the shape of a symmetrical cross. A simultaneously beautiful and gruesome display, Here Today Gone Tomorrow is a very literal representation of the inevitable decay of flesh.
Over time, the fish deteriorates until nothing remains but the bones. It’s a complex piece that carries an air of surrealism and elegance that is quite unexpected given the medium.
10. Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way
The final entry on our list of the most famous Damien Hirst paintings, Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way features another medicine cabinet. Quite different to his seasonal sculptures, despite also using pills and a cabinet, this piece depicts a sterilised steel case with glass doors. All the pills used in the creation of this piece are given as treatment for HIV and AIDS. Hirst’s intention in creating it was to symbolise the continuation of life in the face of seemingly unbeatable odds.
To summarize, some of the most famous artwork
by Damien Hirst include:
Valuing your Damien Hirst Paintings, Art & Sculptures
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