Henry Wyndham, the charismatic and suave chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, is the latest in a growing list of high profile staff to decide to leave the auction house. Wyndham, an Old Masters expert, is also one of the art world’s few star auctioneers, having first taken to the rostrum when at Christie’s in 1977. He was at the helm for the Sotheby’s sale of Giacometti’s L’Homme Qui Marche I (1961), which sold for a £58m hammer price (£65m with premium) in eight minutes of Wyndham’s bid-taking in 2010 and was, at the time, the highest price paid for a work at auction.
Wyndham, who joined Sotheby’s 22 years ago, says that he has been thinking about leaving for “at least a year” but his decision comes at a difficult time for the firm. Other well-connected experts who have recently said they are leaving Sotheby’s include Melanie Clore, its co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern art; Alex Rotter, co-head of its contemporary art department and David Norman, vice chairman of Sotheby’s Americas and its other co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern art.
In January, Sotheby’s announced it had bought the art advisory firm Art Agency, Partners (AAP) in a deal worth up to $85m, a daring move that has divided opinion. On Friday, Sotheby’s released its financial statements for 2015 that showed profits were down 63%, from $117.8m to $43.7m, in part taking into account the costs of a redundancy programme that the firm announced in November. Tad Smith, who became chief executive in March 2015, also delivered a muted outlook. “We anticipate a significant net loss quarter for the first quarter of 2016,” Smith told analysts on a conference call on 26 February.
Wyndham has not said what he will do next, other than to take a six-month break to “rest and travel”. His last auction appearance will be in London on Wednesday (2 March) for the sale of items from the collection of Deborah Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, who died in 2014 and was a “great friend” of Wyndham.