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The company announced last year that it had "identified areas for cost savings" amounting to approximately $13m which included "modest staff reductions". It is believed that if insufficient numbers take up the voluntary payments, layoffs will follow.

According to Bloomberg News, an email was sent out to Sotheby's staff shortly after the conclusion of their flagship New York sales fortnight this month, where total sales amounted to $1.13bn (£781.1m) including premium. The email stated that the company wanted to give "colleagues an attractive economic opportunity to volunteer to resign, should they wish to do so".

Sotheby's annual report for 2014 gave the number of people employed by the company worldwide at 1550 with 606 staff in North and South America, 502 in the UK, 230 in continental Europe and 212 in Asia.

Back in 2008, the company had over 1600 members of staff. But their headcount fell by around 300 following cutbacks as a result of the major downturn in the art market precipitated by the global financial crash.

"Reinvesting in New Staff"

Given the geographical spread of their workforce, it seems likely that staff reductions will come most heavily in London and New York. However, the restructuring plan originally envisaged most of the savings would be "reinvested in new staff to support collecting categories and activities with the highest growth opportunities".

News of the voluntary redundancy payments came on the back of Sotheby's third-quarter results. The figures showed that while net auction sales had increased by 15% as a result of a change in the timing of the evening sale of Contemporary art in London, revenues from auction commissions during this period decreased.

This was in part down to the competition to win top-end Modern art consignments but also due to weaker sales in higher-margin categories such as Old Masters, Asian art and jewellery.

Overall, Sotheby's reported a third-quarter loss of $17.9m which represented an improvement of $9.8m on the equivalent period last year.