Hirst's glittering price tag loses none of its shine

A diamond-encrusted skull by Damien Hirst has been sold to an unnamed investment group for the asking price of £50m nearly three months after it first went on show.

For the Love of God is a platinum cast of the skull of a 35-year-old, 18th-century man, complete with the original teeth, covered with 8,601 near-flawless pave-set diamonds, including a large pink diamond worth more than £4m in the centre of its forehead.

When it was unveiled at the White Cube gallery in London on 3 June, displayed like a relic in a casket, the skull caused a sensation, both for its daring showmanship and its staggering price tag.

The art magazine Apollo said of the piece: "One lesson it rubs in is that the ideas of an artist have a price far higher than mere gems," while the Art Review commented: "The diamond-studded death's head could be a fashion statement, a bejewelled accessory or a dazzling effigy to all things chav. Instead it's high art... With the skull Hirst has gone too far."

A spokeswoman for Hirst said yesterday: "The skull has been sold to an investment group for $100m," she said. "Damien Hirst has retained a percentage of the work in order to oversee a global exhibition."

Some critics had suggested that the high price of the skull, said to be the world's most expensive piece of contemporary art, had meant that finding a buyer was proving problematic. The Art Newspaper suggested that negotiations over the price of the skull were "protracted" and that at one point a discount was considered. But the artist's business manager Frank Dunphy categorically denied any price drop, while the White Cube's spokeswoman insisted: "The work has always been on sale for £50m." Mr Dunphy said the buyers would pay in cash, but had not received any discount.

"I anticipate that the sale will close in three to four weeks, when all the paperwork is finished," he said.

The identity of the buyers is being kept a secret. It had been speculated that Russian or Middle East collectors, who are very active in the art market, might purchase the skull, but the most serious bidders were reported to be American and British. Nat Rothschild, the son of the art patron Lord Rothschild, was said to be one of the frontrunners.