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The deal, signed on February 25, will become effective once France’s auction reform is definitively adopted, probably later this year.

Although an Artemis press statement described the deal as “a co-operation agreement”, Piasa chief Jean-Louis Picard told the Antiques Trade Gazette that Artemis “will buy Piasa as soon as the law allows”. He would not disclose the sum involved but said Pinault had first contacted Piasa “several months ago”. Although the deal will inevitably lead to closer links between Piasa and Christie’s, Picard was adamant that “this will not lead to Christie’s selling at Drouot” (Piasa themselves “have no intention of abandoning Drouot as a sales venue”). Picard said co-operation between Piasa and Christie’s was not new, adding “Christie’s and Sotheby’s have ‘occasionally’ and on an informal basis consigned items mainly of moderate value, or which they had no interest in exporting to Paris commissaires-priseurs for sale at Drouot”. He said the practice had existed “for months if not years” but that collaboration between Piasa and Christie’s was “fairly recent”, dating to the end of the group’s partnership with Phillips.

Picard feels that France’s impending auction reform, “the very worst anyone could do to destroy our profession”, would lead to many commissaire-priseurs “dying away like burnt-out candles”, a view at odds with Maître Tajan, who was quoted last week as denouncing “France’s rules-and-regulations terrorism”. Before the deal with Artemis, Piasa had planned to expand their group to include “several other colleagues, both from Paris and the provinces”. Picard claimed that the timing of the announcement – just days after news of Tajan’s acquisition by LVMH, owned by Pinault’s personal rival Bernard Arnault – was “a coincidence”. It now means that Sotheby’s (with Poulain-Le Fur), Christie’s and Phillips have all concluded alliances with the three leading Paris auction houses to help them exploit the French market as soon as the commissaires-priseurs’ domestic monopoly is abandoned.

Hugues Joffre, head of Christie’s France, declined to comment on the deal.