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Damien Hirst’s paintings are deadly dull

October 14, 2009

Art review: He may have done them on his own, but these doomy, gloomy paintings look positively amateurish

In pictures: Tour the show for yourself

Damien Hirst's The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth (2008) at the Wallace CollectionView larger picture

Damien Hirst’s The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth (2008) at the Wallace Collection. Photograph courtesy Damien Hirst and the Wallace Collection

Damien Hirst‘s paintings hang in a single, long space at the Wallace Collection, on walls covered in blue silk with a vertical stripe. The setting is extremely theatrical – just like the rest of the museum. Through a doorway, at a distance, is Nicolas Poussin’s late 1630s Dance to the Music of Time. This stares back at Hirst’s painting of a single skull, on a murky blue-black background.

Hirst locates himself at the sharp end of art history. This is brave. It is also hubristic. Three-hundred and seventy years stand between Hirst’s No Love Lost and Poussin. In the rooms beyond hang Titian and Frans Hals, Rembrandt and any number of gilded rococo fripperies. But the artist Hirst is really confronting here is Francis Bacon, the absent ghost at the feast.

Bacon’s pin-striped businessmen from the 1950s appear to provide Hirst’s model. Instead of anxious executives, though, Hirst gives us the skull without the skin: skull after skull floating in blue gloom, along with glass ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters and glasses of water – half-full or half-empty, like life itself. It’s the old mortality shtick. There’s a shark’s jaw, open like a man-trap, an iguana that looks more dead than alive, and the odd stag beetle.
Read more: Review: Hirst’s paintings are deadly dull
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