No Love Lost: Damien Hirst’s blue paintings
The Wallace Collection, for those who do not know the gallery, is this extraordinary yet intimate mansion in the heart of London, where old masters’ paintings – from Poussin to Watteau, Ingres to Rambrandt – are exhibited alongside furniture, china and decorative arts, in Marie-Antoinette-like rooms heavily decorated with lush velvets, wallpapers and tapestries. A beautiful place in itself where, as a fresh art student in London, living a 10-minute walk to the gallery, I used to go on rainy afternoons, just to sit down and sketch from the wonders of the rooms.
Now imagine the genius of contemporary arts, whose mind creates strange pieces such as sharks and cows in formaldehyde, cabinets of dead butterflies and diamond skulls, exhibiting in the Wallace gallery. Quite the antithesis.
Yet there is something Damien Hirst does finally share with old French and Flemish masters: the medium. Indeed, after disregarding painting for most of his career, the artist finally goes back to this traditional medium, more humble than diamond. And in a way he gives more of himself too: if he is not expected to paint the dots on his ‘Dot Paintings’ or place the diamonds in his cabinets, this time his team could not legitimately paint this series of pieces for him.
But although through a different medium, Hirst also explores familiar themes of his: death, life, light with depictions of skulls, studies of perspective and a focus on the concept of vanitas, just like still life masterpieces from Flanders. All in a beautiful, dark and mysterious Prussian blue, that also covers the walls of the two rooms taken over by Hirst. The 25-piece series ends with a ray of light, a touch of hope: flowers (above). White roses in the colour of a skull, but in contrast with the surrounding darkness.
Well worth the visit, be it only for the shock you get when you enter the Hirst-clad rooms. As for the love, it seems not to be lost, but it is up to you to find it.
No Love Lost. The Wallace Collection, London. Until 24 January. Free entry.