Pills, pickled animals and paintings – Damien Hirst, leader of the Young British Artists in the 1990s, is one of the most successful and infamous artists of his generation. His prices on the secondary market reached a high in 2007-08 but top results have been achieved as recently as 2018. Here we take a look at some of Hirst’s top works at auction.
1. Lullaby Spring, £9,652,000
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 (the full story is explained in #7 in this list). 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.
2. The Golden Calf, £10,345,250
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.
3. The Kingdom, £9,561,250
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 £9.5 million, The Kingdom achieved far more than its £4,000,000-6,000,000 estimate.
4. Fragments of Paradise, £5,193,250
Another top lot from Sotheby’s dedicated Hirst auction on 15 September 2008, Fragments of Paradise was one of the first in Hirst’s new series of cabinets, this time displaying diamonds instead of pills. Estimated at £1,000,000-1,500,000, the new work went on to achieve five times higher. “The amazing thing about diamonds is that they take light and throw it back at you,” Hirst had said, adding, “but they have a dark side as well.” Between 2008-11, Hirst made 14 gemstone cabinets displaying diamonds or sapphires, but none have topped Fragments of Paradise on the secondary market.
5. Eternity, £4,724,000
Eternity, an early work in Hirst’s series of ‘Kaleidoscope’ butterfly-wing paintings, spans 17 feet wide and includes over 2,700 butterflies. Beautiful and morbid, the ‘Kaleidoscope’ butterflies exemplify Hirst’s obsession with life, death and blurring the lines between the two. Eternity achieved £4.7 million against an estimate of £2.5-3.5 million when it was offered in Phillips’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London on 13 October 2007, becoming the star lot of the night.
6. The Void, $5,850,000 (£4.5 million)
Standing over 2m tall and almost 5m wide, The Void is the largest of Hirst’s pill cabinets and also one of the first he ever made. The work was purchased from Gagosian Gallery in 2000 and kept in the same collection for almost two decades before the owner offered it in Phillips’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 18 May 2017. Though the cabinet only scraped the low end of its $5,000,000-7,000,000 estimate, the result was not a bitter pill to swallow for the auction house – $5.8 million was the highest price paid for Hirst’s art in three years, claimed The Art Newspaper.
7. Lullaby Winter, $7,432,000 (£3.7 million)
Lullaby Winter was the auction ‘record’ that wasn’t. At $7.4 million or £3.7 million, the pill cabinet sold for double its $2,500,000-3,500,000 estimate at Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 16 May 2007 – a new record price for the artist at the time. But the buyer never paid after the sale and, having guaranteed the work, Christie’s was forced to keep Lullaby Winter themselves. Almost eight years later, Christie’s offered Lullaby Winter in their Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 11 February 2015. There, the artwork sold for £3 million.
8. Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way, $7,150,000 (£3.6 million)
On 14 February 2008, Sotheby’s teamed up with U2 lead singer Bono and Damien Hirst to launch the auction house’s first (RED) charity auction. Curated by Hirst, the evening sale offered 72 lots themed around the colour red – by the end of the night, 17 new auction records were set and $42 million was raised to fight against AIDS. The top lot was Hirst’s Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way, one of seven works the artist donated to the sale, which achieved $7.1 million.
9. Away from the Flock, $4,412,500 (£3.2 million)
This important lamb sculpture from 1994, one of Hirst’s first formaldehyde artworks, was snapped up after 30 seconds of bidding at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 17 May 2018. Four editions of Away from the Flock were made in 1994 – other versions are now in the collection of Tate Britain and in The Broad, Los Angeles.
10. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, £2,953,250
Another highlight from Sotheby’s dedicated Hirst auction on 15 September 2008, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow displays fish preserved in formaldehyde alongside fish skeletons – a conversation between life and death. The artwork was recently exhibited at Ukraine’s Pinchuk Art Centre group show, Fragile State, from 2017-18.