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The Virtues

A celebratory depiction of blossoming cherry trees, Damien Hirst’s H9 The Virtues was inspired by trees remembered from his Devonshire childhood. As Japan’s national flower, the blossom also symbolizes the Japanese values used to title the eight giclée prints: justice, courage, mercy, politeness, honesty, honour, loyalty, and control.

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Meaning & Analysis

Hirst’s H9 The Virtues print series are some of his most popular. Studies of the cherry blossom tree, these works hark back to Hirst’s own childhood.

The tree resonates strongly with the artist's youth as he remembers how, at the age of three, he watched his mother painting one in full blossom. Hirst's love for the trees, their natural beauty and elegance grew stronger over time, and he recalls fondly how he was enchanted the tree outside his bedroom window in Devon.

Originally drawn to the way in which the cycle of the cherry blossom tree acted like a clock, with its annual blossoming representing a year passing, the artist explains “I realised that, from a time-passing point of view, the tree meant everything to me: that’s another year, that’s another year. For a while, it just became like a clock. And I kind of love it for that reason.

The cherry blossom is Japan’s national flower and Hirst references Japanese culture through the series name and the title of each print. The print names are derived from the Japanese ‘Eight Virtues of Bushidō’ according to Nitobe Inazō -justice, courage, mercy, politeness, honesty, honour, loyalty, and control. These virtues acted as a moral code concerning samurai attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle and each print is named after a different virtue.

Delicate pinks and blues are used throughout the series to capture the trees in bloom. The soft pinks Hirst uses for the blossoms contrast with the vibrant blue sky, drawing attention to the natural beauty of the flowers. When looked at closely, it becomes apparent that the prints are composed of tiny spots. The influences of Impressionism and Pointillism shine through in the H9 The Virtues series in which Hirst combines thick brushstrokes with intricate spots and delicate gestural lines. Hirst’s use of spots in this series is significant as the artist has a longstanding obsession with the use of spots in his artworks. Known for his methodological approach to art and precision, Hirst often experiments with spots and circles, with the most iconic example being Hirst’s spot paintings which the artist produced from 1986- 2011.

10 Facts About Damien Hirst's H9 The Virtues

H9-1 Justice by Damien Hirst

H9-1 Justice © Damien Hirst 2021

1. H9 The Virtues reveals Hirst's interest in vanitas paintings.

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.

H9-2 Courage by Damien Hirst

H9-2 Courage © Damien Hirst 2021

2. Hirst's cherry blossoms are inspired by his childhood.

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.

H9-3 Mercy by Damien Hirst

H9-3 © Damien Hirst 2021

3. Cherry blossoms symbolise the brevity of time.

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.

H9-4 Politeness by Damien Hirst

H9-4 © Damien Hirst 2021