Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Friday, March 3, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Every artwork that’s ever interested me is about death.” 
    Damien Hirst

    Damien Hirst’s Untitled Skull with Spine is one of the rare examples of the artist’s explorations in representational painting. Between 2006-2008, Hirst was experimenting with a series of works that differ starkly from his colourful, vibrant, or diamond-encrusted pieces that otherwise tend to dominate his artistic vocabulary. Instead, we encounter an unusually bare-faced vulnerability in these painterly works. Painted in 2007, the present work is an exquisite example from this series.

    With its sombre, ethereal colour palette and sharp rendering, Untitled Skull with Spine is a momento mori that presents us with an emotive meditation on the impermanence of life and the fragility of the human body. The artist’s characteristic motifs of the skull and the spots are transposed into a composition that feels tortured and exposed; with its grotesque spine, twisting within its own skeletal cage, the viewer is confronted by a visceral reminder of our own inevitable mortality.


    Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1953, Tate Gallery, London. Artwork: © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS 2023

    The well-documented influence of the work of Francis Bacon on Hirst’s own artistic œuvre is particularly apparent here. Characterized by a dark and introspective view of the human condition, his works resonate with Hirst’s similar preoccupation with transience, death and decay. The distorted form in Untitled Skull with Spine recalls the tormented figures in Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1953.


    “With Bacon I have consistently loved his paintings, I love how they work … it makes you think about the horror of how fragile we are…”
    — Damien Hirst

    Hirst has also emphasised the personal, internalised importance of his specific paintings from this period, addressing their significance as a very intimate confrontation of his relationship with painting: “I think I’ve always been afraid of painting, really. Right from the beginning. All my paintings are about painting without a painter … but they are denying something; they are all denying something. And in the end, I’ve just gotten to the point where I can’t deny it anymore.”i


    Untitled Skull with Spine allows us a rare glimpse at a side of Hirst as an artist that we scarcely get to see. Everything about it is acutely poignant and raw, from its direct visual allusion to Bacon, who’s paintings Hirst has aspired to since childhood, to its haunting subject matter and its fervent, painterly execution, it illuminates the striking vulnerability of the human condition, our own mortality and of the artist himself.


    Damien Hirst, quoted in Anthony Haden-Guest, ‘Damien Hirst’, Interview Magazine, 23 November 2003, online.

    • Provenance

      White Cube, London
      Private Collection, USA
      Gifted by the above to 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


Untitled Skull with Spine

signed, titled and dated '"Untitled Skull with Spine" 2007 Damien Hirst' on the reverse
oil on canvas, in artist's frame
182.9 x 137.2 cm (72 x 54 in.)
Painted in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 ‡♠

Sold for £203,200

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084


20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 3 March 2023