From pickled sharks to the world of business: the expansion of an artist's empire

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The Independent Online

Damien Hirst's soaring reputation as an artist has been matched only by the rapid growth in his personal wealth.

Damien Hirst's soaring reputation as an artist has been matched only by the rapid growth in his personal wealth.

Even before Monday night, when with characteristic alchemy he converted the contents of his failed restaurant Pharmacy into a personal payday of £9.6m, he was worth more than £35m.

Prices paid for his works are riding high. According to artprice.com, which provides information to the fine art world, £100 invested in a Damien Hirst in 1997, before Pharmacy even opened its doors, would now be worth £389. This is a return of about 30 times greater than the same amount invested in the FTSE 100 over the same period.

Last year, at his first exhibition since 1995, Romance in the Age of Uncertainty held at the White Cube, Hirst made £11m, making him Britain's most successful conceptual artist. He used most of the money to buy back 12 pieces from his former mentor Charles Saatchi, including his pickled shark, sheep and cows.

The deal was brokered by Jay Jopling of the White Cube. Hirst and Saatchi fell out after riding the Britart wave together from the early 1990s. The advertising tycoon saw a phenomenal return on his investment in the emerging artist.

The top price in the 2003 sale was achieved by Charity , a 22ft bronze replica of the Spastics Society collecting doll from the 1960s. Hirst made three of the statues, one of which was sold to Kim Chang II, a businessman who displayed it at his Seoul department store. Another was damaged in the fire that swept through the Momart warehouses in east London earlier this year, destroying 17 of Hirst's works. The artist received a seven figure cheque from his insurers for the disaster.

Major works are commanding major prices. This week his medicine cabinet The Fragile Truth , sold for £1.2m when the auctioneer's commission was added. A second, The Sleep of Reason , sold for slightly more than £1m.

Hirst's industrial-level of production is down to the closely managed studio system he has built. He employs a staff of 30 mainly at his company Science Ltd which he runs from his rented office, an imposing Victorian house in Gower Street, central London. The cost of employing such a staff can be met with "two paintings a year", he says.

This summer he applied to expand his studios in Gloucestershire where most of his pieces are created. Stroud District Council is considering whether to approve the plans.

His business ambitions are far ranging. He is listed as a director of nine companies including Science Ltd, whose stated endeavour is recorded at Companies House as artistic and literary creation. Then there is Turtleneck Ltd, an art media company, Other Criteria Ltd, a general commercial company, Windows on the World Ltd, a computer company, Murderme Ltd and Overthesofa.com Ltd, which operate arts facilities, and the most recent - Under The Sofa.com Ltd and Under The Sofa Ltd which again specialise in artistic and literary creation. All are registered to a building in Charing Cross Road, central London, the home of Hirst's accountants. A ninth, Is Good Limited, is described merely as a general commercial enterprise.

Hirst is also a former director of 11 The Quay in the unfashionable North Devon town of Ilfracombe where he financed the restoration of the harbourside Victorian inn that houses it.

Hirst lives with his wife in Combe Martin, north Devon. He also has a house boat in Chelsea. He recently added four properties to his portfolio in Lambeth, south London, which are likely to provide studio space and recording facilities.

He is building a house by the coast in Mexico, described as resembling Cinderella's castle, which he plans to rent out as a holiday destination.

Hirst's next major exhibition will be in the United States with an exhibition of his paintings at the New York Gallery in March 2005.

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