Lot 9
  • 9


800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Damien Hirst
  • Loving You
  • butterflies and household gloss on canvas
  • 213.4 by 213.4 cm. 84 by 84 in.
  • Executed in 1994-95.


Jay Jopling/White Cube, London Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1995


Damien Hirst, I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now, London 2005, p. 132, illustrated in colour (incorrectly illustrated)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the illustration fails to convey the iridescent nature of some of the butterflies. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals one minute loss: the lower body of one butterflies has fallen down as apparent at the bottom of the frame.
"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

Executed in 1994-95, Loving You is a seminal example of Damien Hirst's celebrated Butterfly Paintings. This painting is one of the first monochrome butterfly canvases created by the artist and belongs to a fleet of only twelve equally sized 84 by 84 inch works, for which Hirst was awarded the prestigious Prix Eliette von Karajan in 1995. Where his later works comprise arrangements of butterflies in grand kaleidoscopic configurations that evoke the celestial magnitude of stained glass windows, Hirst’s earliest iterations are minimalist compositions, in which monochrome backgrounds evoke the subliminal colour fields of Mark Rothko or Ellsworth Kelly. The pastel yellow background of Loving You is peppered with an array of radiantly coloured butterflies. Poised in the stillness of death their fragility and tactility is both blissfully celebratory and poignantly sad. Damien Hirst's focus on the cycles of creation and destruction, whether biological or aesthetic, takes numerous, yet interrelated forms throughout his practice. As one of the most visually jubilant explorations of this subject, Loving You seduces the viewer into existential contemplation as its jewel like protagonists highlight the subtle fragility and transience of life. Butterflies were one of the earliest sources of inspiration for Hirst, and have appeared frequently throughout his career to date. He first alighted upon the idea of incorporating insects into his works by chance. As he recalled: “I remember painting something white once and flies landing on it, thinking ‘Fuck!’ but then thinking it was funny. This idea of an artist trying to make a monochrome and being fucked up by flies landing in the paint or something like that” (Damien Hirst cited in: Exh. Cat., Naples,  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Damien Hirst: The Agony and the Ecstasy, 2004, p. 74). Hirst subsequently went on to recreate this effect using butterflies: “I [wanted] it to look like an artist’s studio where he had wet coloured canvases and the butterflies had landed in them” (Ibid.).

The present work is directly related to Hirst's seminal 1991 installation: In & Out of Love. Held in a former travel agent’s office, this immersive work comprised brightly coloured monochrome butterfly paintings similar in aesthetic to Loving You, and a set of white monochrome canvases onto which Hirst attached live butterfly pupae. Bowls of sugar water placed near the ‘pupae’ canvases allowed the hatchling butterflies to feed and mate. The butterflies live metamorphosis from pupae to fully grown breeding adults effectively served as a miniature illustration of the complete cycle of life and death. The unique paradox of beauty in death is a resounding theme throughout Hirst's practice. His earliest and perhaps most iconic iteration of this is the tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde: The Phyiscal Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991). Furthermore, as a shocking antecedent to the picturesque butterflies of In and Out of Love, the 1990 installation A Thousand Years incorporated not just live flies but an Insect-O-Cutor and a severed cow’s head to create a dark spectacle of birth, death, and decay. However, above all, it is the remarkable ability of the butterfly to retain its physical beauty even in death that has provided a compelling and enduring source of artistic and emotive potency for Hirst. As he has emphatically explained: “Then you get the beauty of the butterfly… The death of an insect that still has this really optimistic beauty of a wonderful thing” (Ibid., p. 83). In this respect, Loving You is a seminal early work that invites meditation and contemplation. It encourages the viewer to focus on the extraordinary – yet fragile – beauty of the natural world and perfectly encapsulates Hirst's continued spiritual and philosophical exploration into the vulnerability and transience of life.