Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art New York Tuesday, July 18, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I always say it’s about life, but I don’t know,
    I suppose it does dwell on the dark side.”
    —Damien Hirst

    Bringing together three of his most iconic motifs—dots, butterflies, and pharmaceutical pills—Damien Hirst’s Happiness, 2008, is a compact expression of the artist’s enduring fascination with the cycle of life and death. In contrast to the perfect geometry of some other works, Happiness presents a seemingly spontaneous arrangement of overlapping shapes and colors. Among the scattering of dots, butterflies, and pills, three empty syringes lay in parallel, pointing downwards.


    The composition of the work, flat and lacquered, as if in a glass vitrine, recalls the Wunderkammer genre paintings that Hirst evokes in his medical cabinet series. The objects in Happiness reflect traditional Wunderkammer categories of art, nature, and science, represented in the dots, butterflies, and pills, respectively. But where a Wunderkammer painting presents a European gentleman’s idealized collection of natural and scientific specimens, the objects in Happiness are more akin to a collection of ideas.


    Andrea Domenico Remps, Cabinet of Curiosities, c. 1699. Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence.
    Image: Scala, Florence - courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali e del Turismo

    Each element in Happiness represents one of Hirst’s distinct approaches to the cycle of life and death. The dots evoke infinity and endlessness; the butterflies, the fragility of life; while the pills and downward-facing syringes serve as a gruesome reminder of the ultimate futility of modern medicine. Together, they explore the artist’s long-lasting source of inspiration – the meaning of life, and its relationship to, as the title indicates, happiness.

    • Provenance

      Other Criteria, London
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Artnet Auctions, April 7, 2022, lot 136390
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Hannover, Galerie Koch, Damien Hirst: The Wonder of you, Spots & More, April 23–May 21, 2016 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Nadia Herzog, “Damien Hirst Reflects upon the Relationship between Life and Death,” Widewalls, April 20, 2016, online (another example illustrated)

    • 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.

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signed “Damien Hirst” lower center; stamped with the artist’s stamp on the overlap
syringes, needles, butterflies, paracetamol pills, synthetic resin, and household gloss on canvas
14 5/8 x 17 1/2 in. (37.1 x 44.5 cm)
Executed in 2008, this work is unique variant number 32 from an edition of 35, plus 5 artist's proofs and is registered in the Damien Hirst archive under the archive-no. DHS 11674.

Full Cataloguing

$25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for $35,560

Contact Specialist

Nina Piro
Specialist, Associate Vice President

20th Century & Contemporary Art

New York Auction 18 July 2023