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One of the most prominent Young British Artists—an internationally-renowned artist group known for their controversial work and dominance of the British art scene during the 1990s—Damien Hirst is widely hailed as the enfant terrible of the contemporary art world.


Born in Bristol, England in 1965 and growing up in the northern city of Leeds, Hirst struggled at school. His art teacher famously begged for him to be allowed to progress onto A-Level study at sixth-form college, where he achieved an ‘E’ grade in Art – a fact he would later reference in his 1995 Turner Prize acceptance speech.

During his twenties, Hirst continued to make art independently. After spending two years working as a labourer on various building sites in London, in 1986 Hirst went on to study Fine Art at London’s Goldsmiths College, having initially been refused entry.

First Works

During his time at Goldsmiths, Hirst developed a wider understanding of the interaction between painting and sculpture, and produced minimal installation works inspired by American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, such as Medicine Cabinets (1988). These installation works were made using his grandmother’s empty medication packaging, which he had requested she leave him in the event of her death.

A persistent theme in Hirst’s early oeuvre, death had fascinated the artist since a very young age, inspiring his early installation piece A Thousand Years (1990). From the age of 16, Hirst would regularly visit the anatomy department of Leeds Medical School—a period captured in the controversial photographic work, With Dead Head (1991)—and later worked part-time in a morgue. In his second year at Goldsmiths, Hirst became interested in colour and began to produce his iconic Spot paintings.


In 1988, Hirst and fellow Goldsmiths student and exhibitor Angus Fairhurst converted an empty Port of London Authority Building in South East London into the venue for the breakthrough exhibition, Freeze. Featuring the work of 16 Young British Artists, it was here that Hirst first attracted the attention of renowned art collector, Charles Saatchi, and curators Nicholas Serota and Norman Rosenthal.

In 1991, Hirst had his first solo exhibition at London’s Woodstock Street Gallery and in 1992 exhibited alongside his fellow Young British Artists at the Saatchi Gallery. Following his appearance at the 1993 Venice Biennale, in 1995 Hirst went on to win the prestigious Turner Prize. Accepting the prize, Hirst famously commented, ‘It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination and a chainsaw'.

Most Famous Works

Perhaps Hirst’s most famous work is the installation The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Somebody Living (1991). Created for the British collector Charles Saatchi, it comprises a shark floating in a large tank filled with the preservative solution formaldehyde.

Another of Hirst’s most iconic and controversial pieces, Mother And Child (Divided), was exhibited at the 1993 Venice Biennale. Constitutive of four glass-walled tanks containing a bisected cow and calf, also preserved in formaldehyde, its continued exhibition has enraged animal rights groups for many years.

In 2007, Hirst produced another of his most well-known pieces: costing a total of £12 million to produce, For The Love Of God comprises a platinum cast of an 18th-century human skull encrusted with diamonds.


Irish-born British painter Francis Bacon, a friend of Hirst’s and a major supporter of his work, has been a key influence on the artist’s practice. Hirst’s morbid fascination with gore and death, explored in the screen print series Til Death Do Us Part (2012), evokes Bacon’s controversial treatment of the body in his visceral figurative paintings.

Works such as For The Love Of God recall Marcel Duchamp’s use of everyday objects to create works he dubbed ‘readymades’, a practice echoed by another of Hirst’s friends and contemporaries, Jeff Koons. The reproducibility of Hirst’s works, many of which are created by a team of assistants, are certainly inspired by the artistic practice and philosophy of American Pop Artist, Andy Warhol. Hirst cites little-known British artist John Hoyland as the catalyst for his long fascination with colour, characteristic of his Spot paintings.

Style & Technique

Damien Hirst works with a variety of different media and has experimented with a range of different artistic processes, from the more traditional screen printing process to preserving dead animals in formaldehyde.

Hirst’s early process saw him opt for a minimal and almost structural approach to composition which one can see in his many Spot paintings, each named after a different research chemical. As these works gradually became greater in number, Hirst hired assistants to complete them according to his instructions. Mass producing paintings on an industrial scale with the help of others, Hirst has been publicly criticised by the likes of David Hockney. However, some have noted that similar processes have been commonplace since the Renaissance. Others argue that Hirst’s use of assistants amounts to a bold artistic statement that recalls the work and philosophy of Andy Warhol. Commenting on his work, Hirst has said, ‘I think art should be like when you go to the cinema… I don’t see why art should be any different to that’.

Life & Times

Damien Hirst is no stranger to controversy. Well-known for his provocative and inflammatory works that deal explicitly with taboos such as death, Hirst has also been criticised for creating art which is both cruel and possibly dangerous. In a major retrospective at London’s Tate Gallery in 2012, Hirst recreated one of his 1991 installations, In And Out Of Love (White Paintings And Live Butterflies) (1991). Featuring a host of live butterflies, over 9000 were said to have died during the exhibition’s five month-long run. Hirst’s famous installation Two Fucking And Two Watching – made from a rotting cow and bull – was once banned from appearing at a New York exhibition for fear it would induce illness and vomiting amongst visitors.

On The Market

Damien Hirst is one of the most commercially successful and wealthy artists alive today. A brand in himself, in 2008 Hirst queried established practice and took his own art directly to auction, achieving many millions of pounds in sales. In June of 2007, Hirst gained the world record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction by a living artist: Lullaby Spring, a 3-metre wide cabinet filled with over 6,000 pills, sold for $19.2 million.

Prints and Editions

After producing his first limited-edition print series, The Last Supper, in 1999, Damien Hirst has created numerous prints and editions that have dominated the market - with many selling for over 6 figures at Auction.

It is Hirst’s Spot prints, however, that remain his most popular and continually successful on the secondary market. Based on Hirst’s pharmaceutical paintings, the popularity of the Spots can perhaps be put down to their visual accessibility or the fact that he signs these works on the front, rather than the back, making them all the more recognisable. Similarly, the Hirst In a Spin series and Butterfly prints remain perennial favourites, with one of his Butterfly stained-glass prints selling for £150,000 in 2018 - currently the most expensive of Hirst’s prints to sell at auction.

The number of prints and editions produced in a series obviously affects their price and success on the secondary market, with the average Hirst series spanning between 50 - 150 alongside artist proofs. One of the key exceptions to this is found in his Butterfly Rainbow and Butterfly Heart prints, made to raise money for the NHS, which was released in 2020 in editions of up to 4,150.

The Golden Calf by Damien Hirst

image © Sotheby's / The Golden Calf © Damien Hirst 2009

1. £10.3M for Damien Hirst's The Golden Calf

Animals suspended in formaldehyde solution are among Hirst’s best-known early works and the artist offered a small menagerie of pickled creatures in his auction with Sotheby’s, Damien Hirst – Beautiful Inside My Head Forever (Evening Sale) on 15 September 2018 in London. The star lot of the night was a bull with solid 18-carat hoofs, horns and a golden disc on its head – a nod to the false idol that enraged Moses in the Biblical story. Sold for £10,345,250, it is Hirst’s most expensive work in pounds (in dollars, it fetched $14.4 million), but The Golden Calf did not exceed its £8,000,000-12,000,000 estimate and was, perhaps, not the sacred cow Sotheby’s had hoped for.

Lullaby Spring by Damien Hirst

image © Sotheby's / Lullaby Spring © Damien Hirst 2002

2. £9.7M for Damien Hirst's Lullaby Spring

Considered Hirst‘s most expensive work for its value in dollars ($19.2 million), Lullaby Spring – a steel and glass cabinet holding 6,136 individually painted pills – achieved over three times its £3,000,000-4,000,000 estimate when it sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction in London on 21 June 2007. At £9.6 million, it set a new auction record price for Hirst and established him as Europe’s most expensive living artist at the time.

Lullaby Spring is one in a series of four pill cabinets known as Lullaby, The Seasons. Christie’s had sold Lullaby Winter in their New York auction in May 2007 for $7,432,000, or £3.7 million, although the buyer never paid. Just over a month later, Lullaby Spring increased the value of Hirst’s pill cabinets by $12 million when it was offered at Sotheby’s.

The Kingdom by Damien Hirst

image © Sotheby's / The Kingdom © Damien Hirst 2008

3. £9.6M for Damien Hirst's The Kingdom

The second-highest lot on Sotheby’s dedicated Hirst auction on 15 September 2008, The Kingdom presented a tiger shark in a black vitrine. Hirst’s most famous tiger shark sculpture, The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, made headlines in 2005 when art collector and patron Charles Saatchi privately sold the work to an American buyer for nearly £7 million. The Kingdom was not as large as The Physical Impossibility, but there was energetic bidding for the chance to own a Hirst shark – at nearly £9.6 million, The Kingdom achieved far more than its £4,000,000-6,000,000 estimate.

Fragments Of Paradise by Damien Hirst

image © Sotheby's / Fragments Of Paradise © Damien Hirst 2008