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Payments to consignors following the Can$3.6m sale had been due around July 8 but, in a statement, Sotheby’s said: “We have recently heard from a number of consignors and from Ritchies’ management that Ritchies has not yet paid them for the paintings that were sold. Sotheby’s is, of course, extremely concerned to learn about this situation.

“While Ritchies is the auctioneer of record and is contractually responsible for paying out all consignors to the auction, Sotheby’s is communicating with each of those consignors of the May sale that we are voluntarily ensuring that all payments due with respect to that sale will be honoured.”

Sotheby’s say they have chosen not to renew their eight-year partnership with Ritchies.

Ritchies’ president Stephen Ranger published a statement on the company’s website acknowledging the delay in payments but emphasising that lessons had been learnt and that it would now be business as usual.

“Payment to some consignors from the sale of May 25 was delayed. For this, the management of Ritchies express their sincere apologies for any concern or inconvenience caused to its valued clients,” the statement read. “As a result, Sotheby’s and Ritchies have terminated the partnership and Sotheby’s will assume control of the balance of consignor payments for this auction.”

Ritchies say they are now undergoing organisational and financial changes to enhance their operations.

During the eight years of their partnership, Sotheby’s and Ritchies proved key players in a booming Canadian art market, with sales over Can$100m.

Their sales together included the record Can$4.6m achieved in 2002 for Scene in the Northwest, a portrait of the British surveyor John Henry Lefroy c.1846 by Paul Kane. It was bought by the late Lord Thomson of Fleet, who subsequently donated it to the Art Gallery of Ontario.