Damien Hirst - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  • "A scientific approach to painting in a similar way to the drug companies’ scientific approach to life. Art doesn’t purport to have all the answers; the drug companies do. Hence the title of the series, The Pharmaceutical Paintings, and the individual titles of the paintings themselves […] Art is like medicine, it can heal."
    —Damien Hirst
    Executed in 1995, the same year that Damien Hirst was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize, Biotin Hydrazide is an exquisite early example of the young artist’s vision and ambition, a testament to the role played by his iconic Spot Paintings in establishing his reputation at the vanguard of the ‘90s British art scene. Meticulously rendered on an impressive scale, the work draws conceptual connections between Hirst’s other foundational series, combining the ordered, grid-like structure of the Medicine Cabinets, the relationship between mortality and medicine explored across the cabinets and iconic formaldehyde works, and the exuberant sense of colour expressed by the Spin Paintings.


    Detail of the present work

    Arranged against a brilliant white ground, the uniquely mixed hues of household paint seem to vibrate with energy here, our eye seeking out patterns and responding to the chromatic relationships established across the composition that, nevertheless, fail to resolve. As Michael Bracewell has described, drawn to ‘the warmer-coloured spots, the gaze then encounters seeming sudden diagonals, verticals or broken lines of semi-coherence; look again, and even these fleeting spooks of visual sense turn out to be illusions.’i Yet, despite this energetic activity, the work achieves an incredible compositional balance, rooted in the methodical, scientific approach to the composition based on a philosophy of chromatic relationships and their manipulation.


    In this respect, Biotin Hydrazide  recalls the methods adopted by Gerhard Richter as he transitioned from working in black and white to centralising colour in paintings such as 256 Farhen. Applying a mathematical precision to the mixing of his colours, Richter introduced an element of chance and randomisation in his selection of them. Stumbling across the catalogue of chemical company Sigma- Aldrich’s ‘Biochemicals for Research and Diagnostic Reagents’, Hirst struck upon a similar strategy, employing the catalogue as a vast and random title-generator perfectly attuned to his vision of the possibly infinite variety the Pharmaceutical Paintings.


    Gerhard Richter, 256 Farhen (256 Colours), 1974 / 1984, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. Image and Artwork: © Gerhard Richter (0199)

    Striking a balance between art and science, the Pharmaceutical Paintings operate according to strict limitations: crisply rendered and meticulously spaced, the relationships of spots within a painting are carefully regulated with no signal colour appearing twice in any individual composition. Although these early works were all painted methodically by hand, Hirst was interested in the idea of the spots appearing as though they had been executed by a machine, or ‘by a person trying to paint like a machine.’ii Despite the playful rigidity of this approach, the series has proven to be remarkably versatile, including unexpected elements such as the sudden cropping of spots on the right vertical edge of the present work, a reference at once to the infinitely expansive Spot Paintings and a call back to the very earliest works from the series.


    Damien Hirst, Row, 1988. Image: Edward Woodman, Artwork: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022.
    Damien Hirst, Row, 1988. Image: Edward Woodman, Artwork: © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022.


    Spots and Freeze


    Now spanning over a quarter of a century, Hirst’s carefully rendered Pharmaceutical Paintings have become synonymous with the artist himself, bridging his earliest exhibitions as a student in London in the late 1980s to the staggering 2012 Spot Painting retrospective, hosted by Gagosian across eleven of their global galleries simultaneously, where the present work was also exhibited. Painted directly onto the wall of the Surrey Quays Warehouse which held the now legendary Freeze exhibition curated by Hirst as an undergraduate student at Goldsmith’s in 1988, Hirst’s very earliest Spot Paintings adopted a very similar format to the present work, both Row and Edge featuring the line of cropped spots used to dynamic effect here.


    The cornerstone of Hirst’s practice, The Spot Paintings allow the artist to balance mathematical precision with his obvious joy for colour, developing a harmonious system ‘where colour can exist on its own, interacting with other colours in a perfect format.’iii


    Damien Hirst, interviewed for Time on the occasion of his 2012 Gagosian show


    Collector’s Digest


    • 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, his series of medicine cabinets, and his celebrated Spot Paintings.


    • Executed in 1995, the same year that Hirst was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize, the present work represents a key moment in the artist’s career.


    • Since 1988 when the artist curated his seminal Freeze exhibition including work from his Goldsmith’s peer group, Hirst has continued to exhibit internationally, with major shows at Tate Modern in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Examples of his work can be found in major institutions including the Tate, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


    • Most recently, Hirst’s Spot Paintings have been reimagined once again with his series of Veil Paintings, a looser, more gestural treatment of the motif that nevertheless still adheres to the same basic principles of the foundational series as an investigation into chromatic behaviour. 

    i Michael Bracewell, ‘Art Without the Angst’, in Jason Beard and Millicent Willner, ed., Damien Hirst, The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, London, 2013, n.p. 
    ii  Damien Hirst, quoted in The Complete Spot Paintings: 1986 – 2011, London, 2012, p. 822. 
    iii Damien Hirst, quoted in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 119.

    • Provenance

      White Cube, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1996

    • Exhibited

      New York, Gagosian Gallery, Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, 12 January - 18 February 2012, no. 100, pp. 100, 831 (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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Property from an Important Private American Collection


Biotin Hydrazide

signed ‘D. Hirst’ on the reverse
household gloss on canvas
233.7 x 472.4 cm (92 x 186 in.)
4 in. spot

Painted in 1995.

Full Cataloguing

£600,000 - 800,000 ‡♠

Sold for £700,100

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022