The 25 artworks mark a departure for the bankable artist, who has previously been more famous for preserving animals in formaldehyde.

They have gone on display in the classical context of the Wallace Collection in London, rather than a modern art gallery, next door to a room filled with artworks from 18th century France.

Hirst has personally funded a £250,000 refurbishment of the galleries to display his new work so that the exhibition will be free to visitors.

Hirst said he found it “quite funny” that people seemed to be more shocked that he was painting rather than preserving animals. “You kind of think that you’ve done all that formaldehyde work and then it’s a real shock that you’re doing something quite straightforward,” he said.

On the traditional setting for his latest work, Hirst added: “You get a bit bored of putting art in contemporary art galleries, it’s just a big white space isn’t it?

“You know it works in there but it’s quite good to see how it works in other spaces as well.”

Comment: Barry Didcock

Damien Hirst loves to shock, and for a conceptual artist of his stature and reputation there is nothing as outrageous as a return to paint.

I say “return” because that’s what it is. Hirst has made paintings for most of this decade but mostly with the help of assistants or, in the case of his so-called Spin paintings, with the help of a machine.

For these new paintings – 25 in all, including two self-portraits and two triptychs – he has worked entirely alone. The title of the exhibition is No Love Lost and as far as the critics are concerned it’s proving apt. Notices so far have been awful.

“As a painter, Hirst is about at the level of a not-very-promising first-year art student,” wrote one reviewer. Others have noted the similarities between the new paintings and those of Hirst’s hero, Francis Bacon. The Yorkshireman does not fare well in the comparisons.

It says much about the art world’s rarefied upper tier that Damien Hirst’s move has caused such a rumpus. Sadly, the evidence so far suggests he should stick to the day job – jet-setting purveyor of pickled sharks and diamond-encrusted skulls – and leave the brushwork to others.