Stuffed menagerie in a pickle as Hirst fails to deliver salvation

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The Independent Online

A vast collection of stuffed animals amassed by an eccentric Victorian will be broken up after the failure of a last-minute attempt to buy them by the artist Damien Hirst.

As the first of the 10,000 curios, including 6,000 stuffed animals, in Mr Potter's Museum of Curiosities in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, went under the auctioneer's hammer yesterday, speculation was mounting that the godfather of BritArt would turn up to bid.But when the final lot was called, the artist's spokeswoman announced that he would not be attending the auction at the museum.

He was said to be disappointed he could not buy the collection whole, because he had wanted to open his own museum of curiosities. "Damien was very keen to keep the entire collection together and we approached Jamaica Inn and Bonhams (anonymously) in August, and again at the beginning of last week. On both occasions, we were told it was too late for them to accept an offer for the entire collection as the closing date for this was 1 August. Shame," she said.

The entire collection had been available to a private buyer for 12 months before the August deadline. Bonhams denied it had received a £1m offer from Hirst. "We have not received a private offer at any stage," said Jon Baddeley, the group head of the collectors' department at Bonhams.

Despite Hirst's absence, professional taxidermists, collectors of Victoriana and several celebrities, including the comedian Harry Hill and the photographer David Bailey, attended the sale. The collection was formed by the taxidermist Walter Potter, who died in 1918. It contained the world's largest shoe and Queen Victoria's bath tub, and could fetch up to £300,000. Potter began his taxidermy more than 160 years ago by stuffing his pet canary. He graduated to constructing surreal arrangements of stuffed animals, including 11 tableaux, a "wandering albatross" which has what is believed to be the biggest wingspan of any bird in the world, a stuffed elephant's head, a polar bear, a camel and a black rhino's head. He arranged Lewis Carroll-style tableaux of stuffed animals.

Bids of up to £6,000 were expected for The Squirrels' Club, which has 18 European squirrels sitting around tables holding glasses of port and playing poker. It was sold yesterday for £5,500.

The Kittens' Wedding has the cats clothed in frilly knickers under their formal attire. It went for £18,000.