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Though this sudden departure over the Christmas holidays came as a surprise to most observers, Mr Dolman told the Antiques Trade Gazette that the succession had been thought about for some time and that Christopher Davidge had felt the time was right to leave after running a complex global company for 10 years.

At a time of considerable uncertainty in the London auction world, the appointment of an “out and out Christie’s man” will be viewed with relief by the firm’s employees and Mr Dolman announced himself last week as a “dyed in the wool auction person” who had been appointed because M. Pinault and the rest of the management team believed that fine art auctioneering remained Christie’s core business.

He denied reports that Christopher Davidge had left the company following disagreements over the future development of Christie’s in new fields and emphasised the continued commitment to London, though he confirmed that a development team is reviewing the future of the whole King Street site, as reported in last week’s Gazette.

“The whole block is a valuable asset, which must be looked at in all sorts of ways to realise its full potential,” he said. He admitted that there would be changes but said that London would remain the group headquarters and that Christie’s is still an English company, even under European ownership. “It is crucial that we do nothing on the site that will damage our auction capabilities. We must invest in London as elsewhere, but we are not going to change the Great Room. The block as a whole must remain a magnet to the art trade and be as attractive as possible.”

Ed Dolman, who is not yet 40, began his career with Christie’s in the furniture department at South Kensington in 1984 and was part of the senior management team there by the early 1990s. Since then his rise has been meteoric, with rapid promotion taking him from managing director in Amsterdam to managing director of Christie’s Europe, before his move to New York last year.

He will continue as head of Christie’s in America as well as global chief executive, but said that he would nevertheless be spending a lot of time in King Street. He will be in London this week to reassure staff of the continued commitment to London.