Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • To encapsulate a maverick artist as manifold as Damien Hirst in a single object is a Herculean task, one that most critics and academics would shun for the fear of failure. Yet here with Forgiven, we are given a cheat sheet into one of the world’s greatest creative minds. His fascination with colour, the aesthetics of display and the methodology of collecting, and crucially, mortality and the transience of beauty are placed on a pedestal for us to contemplate, muse, wonder and venerate; a pleasure rare to the world.


    Ars longa, vita brevis -- Whilst Life is Short, Art is Eternal

    “Art’s about life and it can’t really be about anything else … there isn’t anything else.”
    — Damien Hirst

    Butterflies have always been a hallmark of Hirst’s storied practice, indeed a creative crucible, ever since his first forays as an artist navigating a post-modern art field. In 1991 he presented In and Out of Love (Butterfly Paintings and Ashtrays), his first exhibition following the legendary YBA-led Freeze exhibition that he curated while a student at Goldsmith’s, and his first solo show in London. Spread over two floors of the nascent (and ultimately short-lived) Woodstock Street Gallery, Hirst placed an audacious installation: on the ground floor, an artificial habitat with the humidity cranked up; larvae were attached onto five monochrome canvasses, upon hatching they would fly around the gallery with sugar bowls and plants encouraging residence in the Mayfair gallery. If this was life, the basement below was death - where paintings rendered in bright pastel colours with adorned with dead butterflies pressed into their surfaces hung on the walls as reminders of our fleeting existence. As Hirst explained in 1991: ‘It’s about love and realism, dreams, ideals, symbols, life and death. I worked out many possible trajectories for these things, like the way the real butterfly can destroy the ideal (birthday-card) kind of love; the symbol exists apart from the real thing. Or the butterflies still being beautiful even when dead. All these things are completely thrown off balance by a comparison I tried to make between art and life, in the upstairs and downstairs installations, a crazy thing to do when in the end it’s all art.’i


    This exhibition would form the foundation for the memento mori totems that make up Hirst’s most accomplished works, and would be recreated for his landmark retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2012. It also placed the artist shoulder to shoulder with the greatest proponents of vanitas that art history has seen: the Pronkstilleven artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Like Hirst, figures such as Willem Kalf and Jacob van Es utilised butterflies and other creatures to underline the transience of life and the sensationalised triviality of the quotidian, as we can see in the latter’s 1640 painting, Roses with Butterflies and Insects.



    Jacob van Es, Roses with Butterflies and Insects, 1640
    Collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg


    His Butterfly Monochrome paintings would follow and interrogate the real vs. imagined symbolism of these chrysalises, and form a kind of personal iconography, before embarking on his ambitious Kaleidoscope series in 2001, to which the present lot belongs. Employing thousands of butterfly wings (Hirst became the UK’s leading importer of butterflies in 2003) that form concentric circles which undulate through the spherical canvas, Forgiven is a grand feat of mesmerisation; attendance begs adulation as we lose ourselves in their prismatic ring roads. The luminescent beauty of the work and the language of its radial arrangement recall the forms of Gothic stained windows that populate the great cathedrals of Europe, in particular those present at Chartres Cathedral in France. There, colossal panes of variegated glass affirm John’s decree that ‘The news that we have learned from him and are announcing to you is that God is light and that in him there is nothing of darkness’ii, and as such, they confirm the presence of God.



    Southern Window at Chartres Cathedral, France

    An Immaterial Connection

    “You have to find universal triggers, everyone’s frightened of glass, everyone’s frightened of sharks, everyone loves butterflies.”
    — Damien Hirst

    The spirituality that emanates from Forgiven is not limited to the ecclesiastical and finds kinship with both Western and Eastern doctrines. Butterflies are used in the bible as a praxis to understand the transfiguration of Christ – the moment in which he transcends flesh to become radiant in his full glory – as well imagery for the Resurrection. The title of the current work also holds direct reference to scripture as it is taken from the Book of Psalms, as does all the works from the limited 2008 subseries to which it belongs.


    Forgiven also holds spiritual heritage in Buddhist art due to the fact that they bear close association with mandalas, devotional images that function as a representation of the ideal universe. Hirst would go onto to create a series of paintings inspired by mandalas in 2019, entrenching the symbolic gravitas of the butterfly in Eastern philosophical tradition.



    Collector’s Digest


    One of the most recognizable, defining artists of his generation, Damien Hirst will go down in the annals of art history as a genre-bending, revolutionary conceptual artist. Coming to prominence in the late 1980s as part of the group identified by collector and gallerist Charles Saatchi as a generation of ‘Young British Artists’, Damien Hirst is best known for his boundary-pushing sculptures of animals submerged in formaldehyde, and his sustained investigation of seriality, repetition, death and belief.


    Damien Hirst, Omnipotence, 2008
    Sold for GBP796,900 at Phillips London, 14 October 2022
    Artwork: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2022


    Also executed in 2008, one of the largest Kaleidoscope paintings, Enlightenment, measures over 7 x 17 feet and includes over 2,700 butterflies. Works from the Kaleidoscope series were first exhibited as part of Hirst’s 2003 White Cube show Romance in the Age of Uncertainty. In 2007, Hirst presented a major series of the paintings in his solo exhibition Superstition with Gagosian Gallery in London and Beverly Hills.



    i Damien Hirst, quoted in Sophie Calle, Internal Affair, exh. cat., Jay Jopling/ICA, 1991, unpaginated
    ii 1 John 1:5, The Bible, online

    • Provenance

      Gagosian, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Damien Hirst

      British • 1965

      There is no other contemporary artist as maverick to the art market as Damien Hirst. Foremost among the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group of provocative artists who graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London in the late 1980s, Hirst ascended to stardom by making objects that shocked and appalled, and that possessed conceptual depth in both profound and prankish ways.

      Regarded as Britain's most notorious living artist, Hirst has studded human skulls in diamonds and submerged sharks, sheep and other dead animals in custom vitrines of formaldehyde. In tandem with Cheyenne Westphal, now Chairman of Phillips, Hirst controversially staged an entire exhibition directly for auction with 2008's "Beautiful Inside My Head Forever," which collectively totalled £111 million ($198 million).

      Hirst remains genre-defying and creates everything from sculpture, prints, works on paper and paintings to installation and objects. Another of his most celebrated series, the 'Pill Cabinets' present rows of intricate pills, cast individually in metal, plaster and resin, in sterilized glass and steel containers; Phillips New York showed the largest of these pieces ever exhibited in the United States, The Void, 2000, in May 2017.

      View More Works



signed, titled and dated '"Forgiven" Damien Hirst 2008' on the reverse; further signed 'D Hirst' on the stretcher
butterflies and household gloss on canvas
diameter 213.4 cm. (84 in.)
Executed in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

HK$6,000,000 - 9,000,000 

Sold for HK$7,510,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022