Purgatorio, 2009



1753 x 1346 mm | 69 x 53 in
Entomological specimens and Hammerite paint on canvas
Image: Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2013


Hirst began work on the ‘Entomology Paintings’ in 2009. Each piece is made by placing hundreds of varieties of insect, butterfly and beetle species into Hammerite gloss paint, in intricate geometric patterns. The series is reminiscent of Hirst’s iconic series of butterfly wing ‘Kaleidoscope’ pieces, which were originally inspired by Victorian tea trays. They allude to Hirst’s long time interest in the nineteenth century fascination with Natural History and the irony involved in having to kill something in order to look at it.

As with the butterfly – one of Hirst's most enduring ‘universal trigger’ – the insects appeal to the artist partly because they retain the appearance of life in death. The artist was initially drawn to the insects because, like the butterfly, they embody the fragility of life, retaining an iridescent beauty even in death. However, whilst the grandeur of the wings in the ‘Kaleidoscope’ series evoke stained glass windows, and are often assigned spiritual titles, the ‘Entomology Paintings’ are named after phases and characters in Dante Alighieri's tortuous vision of the afterlife, the Divine Comedy. As Hirst explains, the paintings are: “beautiful and horrific at the same time, you can’t help but be drawn into it, seduced by it, but you want to run away from it.”[1]

An ‘Entomology Painting’ titled 'Capaneus' was viewable by way of our studio feed in July 2012. A timelapse film of the process is available on the Live Feed page.

[1] Damien Hirst in conversation with Tim Marlow, ‘Entomology Cabinets and Paintings, Scalpel Blade Paintings and Colour Charts’ (Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. / White Cube, 2013)