Traditionally in art history, flowers were used to represent the fleeting impermanence of life, and as a reminder of our own mortality. Of his cherry blossom paintings, Hirst said "these prints are about the momentary, the insane transience of beauty". For Hirst, the cyclical life of the cherry blossom tree is a poignant reminder of the passage of time and the constant renewal of life.
From a very young age, Hirst watched his own mother paint cherry blossom trees in full bloom. As a boy, Hirst was enchanted by the cherry blossom tree planted outside of his childhood bedroom window in Devon, giving this series an uncharacteristic sentimentality for Hirst.
For Hirst, the cherry blossom tree is a way to measure the passing of time. As the artist recalled, "For a while, it became like a clock. And I kind of love it for that reason." Each year, the tree blossoms for a short window of time, then the blossom falls and the branches become bare until the next year: a beautiful way to see the years drift on.
The title of the series itself is a reference to the 'Eight Virtues of Bushitō', which were named by Nitobe Inazō as: courage, mercy, justice, honesty, politeness, honour, loyalty, and control. Inazō's book recorded, for Western readers, the samuri codes of ethics.
Hirst has produced his iconic Spots paintings since 1986. Clearly inspired by Impressionism and Pointillism, Hirst has described these paintings as being what he envisions his work to look like under a microscope. In the case of H9 The Virtues, Hirst takes the spot one step further, using the shape to delineate the petals of the blossom tree with impasto dots.
Hirst created over 100 cherry blossom works to be exhibited at the Foundation Cartier in Paris, from July 2021 - January 2022. The sheer magnitude of paintings and prints dedicated to the cherry blossom is testament to his near obsession with the subject.
Throughout his artistic career, Hirst's mother has allegedly not been the biggest fan of his artwork. However, H9 The Virtues is a series Hirst anticipated she would finally appreciate, as the artist said: "When I was making the animals in formaldehyde, she said, 'Oh, there's enough horror in the world, can't you do paintings of flowers?' And I think, my God, it's taken me until I'm 55 before I can please her."
Hirst completed his H9 The Virtues series in February 2021, during one of the UK's national lockdowns. It is perhaps unsurprising that Hirst should turn to more optimistic subject matter during this period of global unease, and he described his cherry blossoms as "bright and celebratory".
Most of Hirst's oeuvre is about life and death, reminding us of our own mortality. H9 The Virtues, on the other hand, is an optimistic celebration of the good mankind can achieve in life. As Hirst declared, "I hope that The Virtues can remind us to always try and get the most from life."
Hirst, the enfant terrible of the YBAs, is perhaps most famous for his morbid and deathly subject matter. Works like For The Love Of God are a macabre reminder of our own mortality. H9 The Virtues contrarily expresses the beauty and opportunities of life, in a light and airy flurry of pink, white and blue.