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The auctioneers acquired the gallery, which specialises in Old Masters, Impressionist and Modern art, in 2006 but cited "shifts in the collecting tastes of its clients" and "increasing challenges in sourcing and successfully selling the categories of Old Master paintings that traditionally formed the heart of its business" as reasons behind the decision.

"This is a significant decision and it brings to an end the life of an illustrious gallery that has occupied a pivotal position in the global art market for almost a half century," said William Noortman, who took over management of the gallery following the death of his father, Robert, in 2007.

Plans are being finalised for the gallery's remaining inventory of artwork.

Sotheby's acquired the gallery, inventory and receivables with debts of $26m from Robert Noortman in 2006, buying 100% of Noortman's outstanding shares in exchange for Sotheby's shares with an initial value of roughly $56.5m, or 1.95m shares at $29.01 per share.

In February this year, Christie's also decided to close their Contemporary art gallery Haunch of Venison, acquired in 2007, and the business was amalgamated into the auctioneer's private treaty sales division.