They lie in ashes, the dreams of Britain's best modern artists

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The smell of burning plastic cast an acrid pall yesterday over this anonymous part of east London's industrial hinterland, wafting from the twisted frame of what remained of a commercial hangar. There, among the grey-black wreckage, lay the ashes of some of the most colourful and controversial experiments in modern art.

The smell of burning plastic cast an acrid pall yesterday over this anonymous part of east London's industrial hinterland, wafting from the twisted frame of what remained of a commercial hangar. There, among the grey-black wreckage, lay the ashes of some of the most colourful and controversial experiments in modern art.

Speculation on what was consumed by the fire, which started at 4am in Argall Avenue, Leyton, on Monday, remains rife. For one of the units in these nondescript premises, shared with garages, import-exporters and greasy spoon cafés belonged to Momart, the blue-chip facilitator to Britain's art establishment.

As well as transporting and housing royal and national collections, Momart also claims as clients some of the world's wealthiest private collectors and leading artists. Among these is Charles Saatchi. Yesterday, he alone had lost more than 100 artworks.

Insurance experts say the final cost will be in the tens of millions of pounds, but the loss of the work itself - from a wildly enjoyable period in British art - will cast the greatest shadow.

Damien Hirst lost 16 paintings, including his own Butterfly and Spin creations as well as the 22ft bronze statue Charity modelled on the old Spastics Society collection box.

Also among the devastation were works by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and Gary Hume. There was also a Chris Ofili, a Gavin Turk and a Martin Maloney. Add to this a Richard Patterson an Alex Katz and a Dextor Dalwood and the scale of the loss becomes clear. And these are just some of the artists whose work has been identified.

Young artists Fiona Rae, Rebecca Warren, Enrico David and Jason Brooks also had pieces destroyed. The list appears to go and on and on. There were also suggestions that a large number of other works belonging to a private collector had been burnt.

The loss of the Saatchis alone is equivalent to two-thirds of the exhibits at his gallery on London's South Bank. He is said to have 2,500 pieces in his private collection. A spokeswoman for Mr Saatchi said yesterday that he was deeply affected by the fire."Many of these pieces are great personal favourites and works he considers irreplaceable in the history of British art," she said. Perhaps the two most notorious losses are works by Tracey Emin - Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1994, her tent embroidered with the names of former lovers, and her Whitstable beach hut, The Last Thing I Said is Don't Leave Me Here. Yesterday she said she was saddened by the loss, but said the damage could have been even greater had she not removed a "large number" of works from storage last week.

"I'm upset these seminal pieces have been lost and they cannot be recreated ... I've lost my hut and my tent. I feel like I have lost some friends. I thought those works would be around forever, and I never imagined being in a world without them. It sounds sentimental, but this is what I do." She warned it was important to see the fire in context. "I'm also very upset about those people whose wedding got bombed [in Iraq] last week and people being dug out from under 400ft of mud in the Dominican Republic ... the news is bad at the moment."

Other artists dealt with the loss in typically unconventional fashion. Jake Chapman, whose piece Hell, created with his brother Dinos was lost, said: "I hold God personally responsible and on a scale of one to 10 of how annoyed I am, I'd say, about 11."

Chris Ofili, whose abstraction of elephant dung Afrobluff was destroyed, remarked: "The super hero Captain Shit has in-built protection against the flames of Babylon ... he will return ... the saga continues."

Dexter Dalwood said his loss had been small. "It is a tragedy but we can't bring the works back, and it would have been far worse if a child had died."

Senior management at Momart spent much of the day in crisis meetings after admitting between five and 10 per cent of its holdings had been destroyed.

The company which has the Royal Collection, The Tate, and the Royal Academy among its many clients, declined to detail the loss but said it was working with fire investigators to ascertain the cause of the fire.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss and are in constant contact with all of our clients, affected or otherwise. We have been overwhelmed by the support offered by our clients and others in the industry," said Eugene Boyle, Momart managing director.

Robert Read, an art underwriter with Robert Hiscox, Europe's leading insurer of fine art, said it was the worst single loss in Britain since £100m of art was destroyed in 1991.

WHAT THEY SAID WHEN THEY FOUND THEIR WORKS HAD GONE FOREVER

Tracey Emin

"I'm upset, but I'm also upset about those whose wedding got bombed, and people being dug out from mud in the Dominican Republic."

Damien Hirst

"Some work has been lost but at this stage we don't know exactly what. The situation is still being assessed and we may know later today what has gone."

Jake Chapman

"I hold God responsible and on a scale of one to 10 of how annoyed I am, I'd say, about 11."

Dexter Dalwood

"It is a tragedy but we can't bring the works back, and it would have been far worse if a child had died."

Chris Ofili

"The super hero Captain Shit has inbuilt protection against the flames of Babylon ... he will return ... the saga continues."

Charles Saatchi

"Many of these pieces are great personal favourites and irreplaceable in British art."

Up in flames: the sensational art that will never be seen again

Patrick Caulfield Hedone's

Tim Noble/Sue Webster Ms Understood and Mr Meanour

Craigie Horsfield Carrer Muntaner, Barcelona

Paula Rego The Ambassador of Jesus

Gavin Turk Floater

Tracey Emin Everyone I Ever Slept with 1963-95

Michael Craig-Martin Mood Change One

Chris Ofili Afrobluff

Martin Maloney Sony Levi

Tracey Emin The Last Thing I Said Is Dont Leave Me Here

Dexter Dalwood Che Guevara's Mountain Hideaway

Richard Patterson Motocrosser II

Sarah Lucas Down Below

Jake and Dinos Chapman From Hell

Gary Hume Dolphin Painting

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