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The former chairman will not be able to complete a deal for three months without the company’s consent, but it is expected to take at least that time for Goldman Sachs, who represent Mr Taubman, and Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan, who represent Sotheby’s, to complete approaches to those who might be interested in acquiring his holding.

Mr Taubman’s 13.2m Class B shares represent about 63 per cent of the company’s voting rights. Michael Sovern, chairman of Sotheby’s Holdings, said the emphasis would be on a smooth transition of ownership, with chief executive Bill Ruprecht underlining that the company expected to return to an operating profit this year.