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The unexpected deal saw Sotheby’s sell their Australian operation – and brand licence – to First East Auction Holdings Limited (FEAL), a firm headed by Goodmans’ principal Tim Goodman.

The arrangement inevitably means the end of the Bonhams and Goodman relationship – their licence agreement is expected to terminate at Christmas.

It does not, however, mean the end of Bonhams in Australia, as chairman Robert Brooks was quick to point out, saying they would launch their own independent operation.

“I wish Tim Goodman and the team well. We have enjoyed working with them,” said Mr Brooks. “Bonhams’ brand has been a key ingredient in developing this business in Australia. Later this year we will take a fresh strategic direction and expand our presence in this important market.”

Bonhams have spent more than five years building the business with Goodmans, including acquiring a number of auction houses such as Theodore Bruce, Stanley & Co and Leonard Joel and revamping the operation to take advantage of Christie’s withdrawal from Australia in 2006.