Time for cashing in for Dunphy, after years providing increasing success to the now-Super-star Damien Hirst: Damien Hirst’s former manager Frank Dunphy, the mastermind behind some of the artist’s savviest business moves,  is now selling out a major part of his collection (around 200 works) at Sotheby’s London next 20th September.

Frank Dunphy was Hirst’s business manager (and “partner in crime”) for more than 15 years, and as his financial advisor he was the true mastermind behind his incredible success: Namely, Dunphy is credited with facilitating great deals such as the private sale of Hirst’s Hymn in 1999, the first work by the artist to sell for more than £1 million; as well as sustain him in the repurchase of nearly a third of Charles Saatchi’s collection of early works in 2003. But, above all , Dunphy was behind  the two unprecedented direct studio-to-auction house sales of Hirst’s work which somehow revolutionize all the art market: Sotheby’s ‘Pharmacy’ (2004), with all  the contents of Damien Hirst’s ‘Pharmacy’ restaurant, which made £11 million with every lot sold; as well as the most discussed sale ‘Beautiful Inside My Head Forever’ (2008), of works directly from the artist’s studio that went on to achieve £111.5 million, and established a world record for a single-artist sale. ‘The Golden Calf’, preserved in formaldehyde with 18 carat gold horns and hooves, still holds the auction record for the artist at £10.3 million.


Irish-born, Frank Dunphy started his career in show business in London in the 1960s as a manager for  singers, dancers and touring circuses, including a then unknown group who would later become known as Led Zeppelin.

So, Art somehow informed every aspect of Frank ‘s career, as well as of his life, and his subsequent life together with his wife Lorna, sharing a great love also for visual art and being used to visit limitless galleries and museum exhibitions together.

But it was only  his meeting with Damien Hirst at The Groucho Club (which was arranged by Hirst’s mother) that propelled him into the heart of the 1990s art scene.  As Sotheby’s specialist Olly Barker told artnet News. “Damien’s mother was a member as well, and it was her who who first approached Frank to help her son out because Damien had a huge amount of financial success but was young and didn’t really know how to handle the business side of his affairs,” So, they became friends and worked together until Dunphy retired in 2010.

Numerous pieces by the YBAs also tell us about to the spirit of the times: These artists made up Frank and Lorna’s world, with long nights spent together at their favorite haunt, this Groucho Club, where the Dunphys, they first met around a “Yellow Ball”, so the reason of the title for this auction. The central place this tight-knit group occupied in Frank and Lorna’s lives is brought to life by the many pieces they made speci cally with the Dunphys, or their homes, in mind.

Lorna and Frank Dunphy. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Frank and Lorna Dunphy said: “The art scene has been our life for the past 30 years. Living with the art has been like living with our friends. Much of it is steeped in happy memories, and much of it we bought ourselves simply because we loved it. But time waits for no man, and the time has come to say goodbye to some of the art, though not the memories nor to the friendships

Dunphys also worked with Hirst’s fellow YBAs Tracey Emin and Chapman brothers, but the couple always preserved a very special relation with Hirst.

So, unsurprisingly, Hirst’s work makes up a large part of the Dunphy’s collection that Dunphy, which, according to them, was the real result of their friendships and encounters over the years, and so perfectly reflects the friendships they had in the artworld. In particular, some of the Hirst’s works were gifts: for instance Hirst gave Dunphy one of his pill cabinet works Psst (1997) when his advisor was ill (est. £60,000–80,000); Bust of Frank (2008) was for Dunphy’s 70th birthday (est. £25,000–35,000), and Hirst gave Dunphy the butterfly painting Smashing Yellow Ball at Peace Painting (2008) as a retirement gift (est. £100,000–150,000).

Andy Warhol, Dollar Sign (1982). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Anyway,  the Dunphys also bought high-caliber works that will be also presented in this  auction, along with some very blue-chip. For instance, from the highlights already published in the site and now on June preview in London we find an Andy Warhol Dollar Sign painting (1982) (est. £200,000–300,000); and Richard Prince‘s Untitled (Gene Pitney) (2011), which Dunphy bought from Gagosian Gallery, or Tracey Emin, My Heart Is With You And I Love You Always Always Always, 2006 (est. £40,000–60,000). But we can find also some high-caliber works by other renowned YBAs, including Michael Craig-Martin, and Rachel Whiteread with Junk Food, 2007 (est. £10,000–15,000). There will be also place for som great italian art, with Lucio Fontana‘s Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1961) (est. £600,000–800,000), which is actually the most expensive lot in the sale.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1961). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

So, with this hot announcement for September, even if just with 19 highlights revealed yet, we can say that Sotheby’s is already warming up its engines!

Sotheby’s – Yellow Ball: The Frank and Lorna Dunphy Collection

Exhibitions Dates

Highlights exhibition 22–26 June.
Main exhibition 15–20 September. Sotheby’s 34-35 New Bond Street, London.

Auction Details

1. Live Auction on 20 September, 1pm

2. Online Auction 11–21 September

Together the collection is expected to make £6 million – £8.4 million.

Individual estimates range from £50 to £600,000.

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