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Bonhams Ask: Haddock, Hake Or Hirst, As Leeds Chippie Cashes In His Fish

A Damien Hirst fish in formaldehyde, which the artist gifted to a friendly fish and chip shop owner in Leeds, is to be sold by auctioneers Bonhams in London this October at the company’s Vision 21 Sale.

Rather more modest in size than Hirst’s famous shark, the blunt nosed fish, believed to be a denizen of tropical seas, known as a Trevelly, is typical of Hirst’s early work. The work still has its Jay Jopling White Cube Gallery crate. Bonhams estimate that the fish will attract bids of £100,000 to £150,000 when it is auctioned.

The fish came to be in the Leeds chippie as a result of a friendship between the shop owner’s son Darren Walker and Damien Hirst’s brother Bradley, who worked in the shop with Darren. Darren and his brother and sister were also at school with Damien at Allerton Grange in Leeds. The fish and chip shop was in Town Street, Farsley, a suburb of Leeds,

Darren Walker said: I was working in my Dad’s chippie and got my mate, Bradley Hirst, Damien’s brother, a job there too. This was in 1994 and Damien was just beginning to be a bit known. We saw some publicity about a work of his, a whole lot of fish titled `Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction’ and we joked that it would be nice to get something like that for the shop. Two weeks later our fish in formaldehyde arrived!”

“At the time I remember thinking that must be at least £5,000 there. We never insured it even as Damien became more and more famous. We couldn’t have afforded the insurance. Besides, we knew that if it was stolen Damien would give us another one. He’s that kind of guy.”

“At the time our fish was the only Damien Hirst work on public display north of the Thames,” Darren says. A Yorkshire Television programme was produced for the Calender News in 1995 in which Mary Hirst (Damien’s mother) was interviewed in the fish and chip shop.

The year after the gift was made Damien Hirst won the Turner Prize (in 1995). Darren Walker, who now works as an electrician remains good friends with Bradley Hirst and lives close to his and Damien’s sister. The fish and chip shop closed its doors in 2002.

Simon Mitchell, Bonhams Regional Director in Leeds said: “When the work came in to be valued we were blown away. It’s not something you expect to emerge from a fish and chip shop. The inevitable question was: Is this a cod-Hirst? But of course the provenance is personal and impeccable. Its an amazing story about artistic generosity.”