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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Fire devastates Saatchi artworks
Firefighters on scene of fire in Leyton, east London
The fire in Leyton, east London, started on Monday
More than 100 artworks from Charles Saatchi's famous collection have been destroyed in a warehouse fire.

Modern art classics like Tracey Emin's tent and works by Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Gary Hume were lost.

Art storage firm Momart's warehouse on an industrial estate in Leyton, east London, has been largely destroyed and small fires are still burning.

A spokesman for Saatchi said he was "absolutely devastated" and the cost was likely to run into millions of pounds.

He confirmed that Emin's tent - "Everyone I have ever slept with 1963-95" - and her piece known as The Hut had been lost.

Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)
Tracey Emin's tent titled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995. Photo: Stephen White
Works by Patrick Caulfield, Craigie Horsfield and 20 pieces by Martin Maloney were also destroyed. Hell, by brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman, may also have perished.

They represent some of the cream of the so-called "Britart" movement of celebrated modern artists.

The warehouse is also believed to contain works by Turner prize winners Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread.

Aerial shots of the warehouse showed little remaining of the interior of the building, with small fires still alight.

Firefighters are still trying to damp the site down, and an exclusion zone has been placed around the industrial estate.

We can't get within 300 yards of the site - we are very upset, absolutely devastated
Carole Hastings
Momart director

They may not be able to get into the building, on the Cromwell Industrial Estate, until about 2000 BST because gas cylinders could explode.

London Fire Brigade spokesman Gary Bevan said: "This was a very intense fire, black smoke and a red glow could be seen from miles away.

"Our main concern now is that acetylene cylinders and other gas cylinders could explode.

"If they went up they could fall anywhere within 200 metres of the blaze."

'Non-existent'

Momart director Carole Hastings said the warehouse was now "non-existent", adding: "We can't get within 300 yards of the site. We are very upset, absolutely devastated."

The company could confirm "no client information whatsoever" about which artworks were destroyed and to whom they belonged, she said.

Momart's clients include the National Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Buckingham Palace, and the destroyed warehouse made up 5 to 10% of the company's storage capacity.

Firefighters on scene of fire in Leyton, east London
An exclusion zone has been placed around the industrial estate
The fire started in the early hours of Monday and spread through factory units covering an area the size of a football pitch.

A total of 38 units, including a cafe, furniture factory and a car repair yard have been destroyed in the blaze along with the Momart premises.

Lally Singh, 33, told BBC News Online his eight-year-old car repair business had been destroyed.

"There were four other garages like mine backing onto the Momart building - all our workshops had contained inflammable materials in gas cylinders, and I'm surprised such art treasures were stored so close.

"I feel devastated, I had a 100,000 business and now it is all gone, and eight of my customers' cars were destroyed in the blaze."

'Tragedy'

Hundreds of people who were moved from their homes have been allowed to return.

A spokeswoman for the White Cube gallery, which represents many leading British artists, confirmed works by Hirst, Emin and the Chapmans were involved.

A spokeswoman for Hirst said: "At the moment no-one is really sure what the situation is. I know everyone is very upset about it."

Firefighters at the Leyton warehouse blaze

Brian Sewell, the London Evening Standard's art critic, told BBC News 24 the blaze "had the makings of an appalling tragedy for the history of contemporary art".

He also said he felt particularly sorry for Momart: "They are one of the most trusted, respected and reliable firms".

Tracey Emin's tent has 102 names sewn onto the sides including her lovers and her aborted foetuses.

It was nominated for the Turner Prize and Saatchi is thought to have paid 40,000 for it.

The Chapman brothers' controversial work Hell is a series of nine miniature landscapes in glass tanks depicting scenes of disaster and destruction.

Saatchi commissioned Hell for a retrospective at his gallery for a reported 500,000.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's David Sillito
"As the hours go by the list of works lost is expected to grow"



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