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Diana D. Brooks, president and CEO, blamed the three per cent drop in operating revenues on a poorer performance in its financial services sector.

By contrast, the seven per cent increase in auction sales does not include the $26.5m netted in the Château de Groussay sale held outside Paris in June. This is a technicality as, under current French law, foreign auction houses such as Sotheby’s are not allowed to conduct sales, and so they brought in official auctioneers Poulain Le Fur to conduct the proceedings.

“Sales were up in all our key geographical locations: North America, Europe and Asia and increases were led by excellent single-owner property and works of art sold in New York, London and Asia,” said Ms Brooks. Sotheby’s also sold the three most expensive paintings of the spring auction season, two from the Whitney Collection in New York and the third in London. Cézanne’s Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier, a still life c.1893-4, sold for $55m, a record for the artist and the fourth highest price for a painting at auction. Seurat’s L’Ile de la Grande Jatte sold for $32m, also a record for the artist, and in London Edgar Degas’s Danseuse au repos sold for £16m, an auction record for the artist and the most expensive price ever paid for a work on paper at auction.

Auction sales were up 30 per cent in Asia although this was at least in part due to the HK$25.4m paid for a doucai ‘chicken’ cup from the Chenghua period of the Ming dynasty, a world record for Chinese porcelain and the top price paid for any Chinese work of art in Hong Kong.

For the first time, Sotheby’s have published figures for their investment in Internet services.

Despite the increase in auction sales, the first six months profits were down to $22.2m from $27.3m in the equivalent period last year. Lower turnover for financial services and loan payments contributed to the profit downturn.