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Top spot will be seen as a personal triumph for François Curiel, the go-getting president of Christie’s Europe, back in charge of Christie’s Paris office since September 2002. A euphoric Curiel claimed he had “never imagined we would manage to obtain such an important share of the market in France just two years after being allowed to sell here.”

Sales at Sotheby’s, however, slumped 20 per cent to €39.2m (£27m), a figure exceeded by five other firms. Turnover at France’s traditional leaders, Tajan, was stable at around €68m (£47m), although that figure remains short of the Fr626m (£59m) the firm posted in 2001. Thanks largely to the €46m generated by the André Breton sale in April, Calmels-Cohen moved into third spot with sales of €61m (£42m), just ahead of ArtCurial who, in the first full year since the merger of Briest with Poulain-Le Fur, posted sales of €60.4m (£41.7m), almost identical to 2002. Vintage cars accounted for a quarter of that sum.

Sales at Piasa fell by 16 per cent to €41m (£28.3m), while Beaussant-Lefèvre and Pierre Bergé & Associés both reported sales of around €20m (£14m).

Buoyed by the Breton dispersal, total sales at the Hôtel Drouot rose 5.5 per cent to €390m (£270m). Drouot President Georges Delettrez said the increase underlined “the pertinence of the Drouot model” with its “made-to-measure service from firms that remain human in scale”.

Provisional figures suggest that overall auction sales throughout Paris remained stable at around €615m (£430m), after a 10 per cent dip in 2002.

In foreign currencies that represented a substantial increase: the euro gained 10 per cent against sterling and 25 per cent against the dollar during 2003.