Did Damien Hirst really sell diamond skull for £50m?


Last updated at 00:13 09 September 2007

It was billed as the most expensive piece of contemporary art ever created - a £50million platinum skull covered with 8,601 diamonds.

But is Damien Hirst's dazzling creation, called For The Love Of God, all it might seem?

A growing number of art experts are challenging Hirst to prove he did sell the skull last month for £50million - the most ever paid for a work by a living artist.

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Hirst and skull

To make the sculpture, Hirst took a cast of a skull belonging to a middle-aged European man who died in the 18th or early 19th Century and studded it with the diamonds.

It was claimed sourcing so many diamonds at one time had led to shortages in the market.

When the project was first revealed last year, Hirst said it would cost about £8million and be funded mainly out of his £130million personal fortune.

By the time it went on display at Hirst's White Cube gallery in London, he was claiming it had cost £15million to make and would be put on the market for a £35million mark-up - a price he says was met in cash by an anonymous consortium.

But Cristina Ruiz, editor of The Art Newspaper, is puzzled that the sale came immediately after she reported Hirst had tried to offload the work for £38million when he failed to attract a buyer at the hefty asking price.

"They have produced no evidence the skull has been sold," she said. "On the day we said they were negotiating a discount for buyers, suddenly, miraculously, it has been sold for £50million, cash.

"How likely is that? Cash is convenient because there is no paper trail.

"And the claim that sourcing the diamonds for the skull has distorted the market is just more hype.

"The work required 1,100carats, which is a drop in the ocean of total world production of around 30million carats a year."

But Hirst's spokeswoman at White Cube refuted the claims.

She said: "It is simply a coincidence that the sale happened after that piece in The Art Newspaper.

"And the skull was always on the market for £50million - there was no talk of a discount whatsoever."

Harry Levy, vice-chairman of the London Diamond Bourse & Club in Hatton Garden and owner of Levy Gems, said the cost of the skull had almost certainly been exaggerated.

He said: "I would estimate the true worth of the skull as somewhere between £7million and £10million."

And David Lee, editor of art magazine The Jackdaw, said: "Everyone in the art world knows Hirst hasn't sold the skull. It's clearly just an elaborate ruse to drum up publicity and rewrite the book value of all his other work."

But Hirst's spokeswoman said. "The skull was sold for $100million to a private group which does not want to be identified."

Revenue & Customs pointed out last night that if Hirst received £50million, they would expect a VAT payment from him of £8.5million.

Damien Hirst could not be contacted yesterday but Maia Norman, his wife and mother of his three children, insisted the skull had been sold.

Speaking at the couple's farmhouse near the village of Combe Martin, North Devon, she said: "The piece went to a consortium."

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