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While Vancouver-based Heffel Fine Art and Joyner Waddington's in Toronto will doubtless welcome the move, Sotheby's stress they are not abandoning the Canadian market.

"Private sales is the growth area of this business; it's not the auction part that's profitable," said Sotheby's Canada president David Silcox. "We want to operate only at the high level with our highest transacting clients and we'll be more profitable because of it."

Without the distraction of a regular live sale to market and catalogue - the company don't discount holding one-off live sales of important estates here - the Toronto team believe they can also focus on sourcing important international works held by Canadian collectors for Sotheby's salerooms in New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong.