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Tajan confirmed their second place ranking with sales of €64.7m (£46.2m), comfortably ahead of Sotheby’s who, under new boss, Philipp von Württ-emberg, saw their French sales climb 30 per cent to €52.8m (£37.7m).

ArtCurial had a disappointing year, with sales down 30 per cent to €41.6m (£29.7m), leaving them just ahead of Piasa, whose turnover was stable at €39.2m (£28m).

Pierre Bergé & Associés registered a three per cent rise to €22.2m (£15.9m), although nearly 40 per cent of that figure was produced in Geneva.

A key factor in Sotheby’s recovery after a poor showing in 2003 was the success of two major sales of Contemporary art, the Nahon and Lescure Collections. Florence de Botton, who engineered the sales as head of Sotheby’s Contemporary art department, has since been lured to Christie’s.

Failing to land those collections cost Modern specialists ArtCurial dearly, and may account for their abortive attempts to engineer a rapprochement with Tajan during the summer.
Sales at Drouot were down four per cent at €355m (£254m), although results picked up towards the end of 2004, with an eight per cent rise during the September-December period compared to the same period in 2003.