Lot 4
  • 4

Damien Hirst

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Damien Hirst
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • variously inscribed on the reverse
  • butterflies and household gloss on canvas
  • 243.8 by 213.4cm.; 96 by 84in.
  • Executed in 2006.


White Cube, London

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2006


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate but fails to fully convey the iridescent quality of some of the butterfly wings. Condition: This work is in very good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A visual feast of vibrant colour and elaborate pattern, Kingdom of Heaven is a superb example of Damien Hirst’s kaleidoscopic butterfly paintings, a series the artist commenced in 2001. A literal ‘kaleidoscope’ of vivid reds, electric blues and warm yellows, composed of myriad delicate butterfly wings, the present work recalls the appearance of stained glass windows in its joyous cacophony of colour and its intricate arrangement of form. The series originally had its genesis when Hirst was influenced by the sight of a Victorian tea tray: from these relatively humble beginnings the artist has crafted paintings of breath-taking complexity and beauty. Utilising household gloss and butterflies – one of Hirst’s most significant recurring motifs – to create these astounding compositions, the kaleidoscope works also serve as a meditation on the most important on-going themes within the artist’s work, namely science, death and religion. An investigation of the latter in particular has been one of the most important recurring subjects through which Hirst has questioned belief systems and attitudes to mortality.

Aside from the cosmetic connection to church windows, there is a strong spiritual dimension inherent within Kingdom of Heaven and other works within the kaleidoscope series due to the presence of butterflies, which, in Hirst’s highly developed artistic lexicon, have come to signify the soul itself. Despite Hirst’s appropriation of the motif, the association of the butterfly with religion and spirituality is a venerable one: the Ancient Greeks employed an identical word for ‘butterfly’ and ‘soul,’ whilst in Christian tradition the rebirth of a butterfly from its cocoon symbolises the miracle of the resurrection. 

There is a further religious reference in the choice of title for the present work: the phrase, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ recurs within several different contexts within the gospel of Matthew. Arguably one of the most commanding references occurs at the very beginning of the Beatitudes, the eight blessings from the Sermon on the Mount in which key elements of the teachings of Jesus are outlined. Emphasising virtue and modesty, the Beatitudes commence with this simple phrase: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5: 1-12). By employing this parable, Hirst deliberately connects Kingdom of Heaven with the aspirational tenets of the Beatitudes, which propose a set of behavioural and spiritual guidelines that offers the promise of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to those who follow these ideals. In a recent interview Hirst discussed the redemptive powers of art and his belief that art should be an affirmative force: “Art’s got to be positive, even if it’s about negative things… I think you can always apply art to life in a positive way” (Damien Hirst in conversation with Nicholas Serota in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Damien Hirst, 2012, p. 97).

Butterflies were one of the earliest sources of inspiration for Hirst, and have appeared frequently throughout his career to date. One of his earliest exhibitions, In & Out of Love, held in a former travel agent’s office in 1991, featured a combination of butterfly paintings with adult specimens on canvas which were contrasted with pupae attached to a number of white canvases; bowls of sugar water placed near the ‘pupae’ canvases allowed the butterflies to feed and mate. The subsequent hatching and metamorphosis effectively served as a miniature illustration of the complete cycle of life and death: a theme of endless fascination for Hirst. The remarkable ability of a butterfly to still appear beautiful, even in death, was another source of artistic appeal: “Then you get the beauty of the butterfly… The death of an insect that still has this really optimistic beauty of a wonderful thing” (Damien Hirst in conversation with Mirta D’Argenzio in: Exhibition Catalogue, Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Damien Hirst, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Selected Works from 1989-2004, 2004, p. 83). Ultimately Kingdom of Heaven is a work that invites meditation and contemplation, encouraging the viewer to focus on the extraordinary – yet fragile beauty of the natural world through the utilisation of iridescent butterfly wings.