The mystery of the £50m skull: Is Hirst's record sale all it seems?

The revelation that Damien Hirst bought a share of his most expensive work is the talk of the art market. By David Connet

From pickled sharks and embalmed sheep to multi-million pound pill cabinets, British artist Damien Hirst has divided opinion from the very first. There has, though, seldom been as much mystery about one of his sales as there has been over the mind-boggling £50m disposal of his diamond-encrusted skull, For the Love of God.

First, there is the issue of just who makes up the "consortium of businessmen" that has bought it "as an investment". They are staying well below the parapet.

Then, there is the issue of Hirst's involvement in that consortium. And there is the issue of the price paid. Was it really the £50m in cash that Hirst's manager claims?

The sale of the skull, a platinum cast of a 35-year-old 18th-century man's skull, covered in more than 8,600 diamonds, which cost an estimated £15m, was announced by London's White Cube gallery.

By any standards, it has been an extraordinary summer for the 42-year-old artist. First, came a £9.6m sale of Lullaby Spring, a medical cabinet with pills on razor blades at auction, itself a record for a living artist.

Then came his White Cube exhibition, hailed as the "most lucrative in the galleries' history", which sold out and added millions more to Hirst's personal fortune, estimated at £130m.

But while a record-breaking sale might be viewed as an occasion for celebration, the reaction in the art world has been strangely sceptical.

The Art Newspaper, respected for its authoritative reporting, quoted unnamed trade sources saying the skull's price had dropped to £38m during earlier negotiations as Hirst struggled to sell his piece.His business manager, Frank Dunphy, categorically denied the claim.

One report yesterday suggested that a potential buyer, who subsequently dropped out, was offered a 10 per cent discount on the asking price.

Cristina Ruiz, editor of The Art Newspaper, who revealed the negotiations, said: "When works of art are sold privately it is extremely difficult to verify the actual price paid. Dealers and artists naturally have an interest in publicising the highest figures discussed during any negotiations. We will probably never know how much it will sell for."

A Californian dealer, Richard Polsky, said: "This is all about investment, not about art collecting. This sale keeps Hirst in the news, reinforces the demand for his work and makes everyone who spent money at the White Cube feel good about their investment."

As well as some scepticism about the details of the sale, there is concern in the art world that the market may be about to turn as uncertainty hits the world's financial markets.

Observers say hedge fund financiers, among the biggest art buyers in recent years – Steve Cohen of SAC Capital bought Hirst's shark in formaldehyde in 2004 for a reported $8m – are likely to bow out following the recent financial market turmoil.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'