Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Speaking about his hopes for the future of the company, Mr de Pury said that the management buy-out heralded “an expert-driven strategy for growth”. But at the same time he has cut the Phillips workforce by a third, making 50 of 135 staff redundant.

The auctioneers will also close their opulent headquarters in Manhattan and move to the Chelsea district within the next six months. Yet despite these losses and contrary to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the auctioneers say they will be holding sales in all categories – contemporary art, modern design, photography, American paintings, Swiss art, jewellery and watches.

The one omission from this list is the important categrory of Impressionist and modern art; the auctioneers have said they will conduct such sales on an ‘ad hoc’ basis.

Phillips’ rollercoaster ride through the top end of the art market began in earnest in 1999 when Mr Arnault’s LVMH group bought a majority stake in the firm, but to break the duopoly of Sotheby’s and Christie’s by guaranteeing vendors multi-million dollar sums for their works of art was a high risk strategy which met its nemesis in November 2001 when the Smooke collection of Impressionist and Modern art lost the company around $70m. Two months later Mr Arnault sold his majority holding to de Pury, Luxembourg and a new financial backer Louise MacBain, who resigned from the company in December 2002 following another disastrous Impressionist and Modern sale.

Mr Arnault’s foray into the upper echelons of the art market may appear to be over, but his 49.9 per cent share in UK-based Bonhams means that he has not quite left the scene.