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The move comes as part of a global review of operations that will see the company offering goods where they will sell most profitably, rather than where they are sourced – a policy that reflects the increasing sophistication and wider use of communications technology. In Italy, that means dropping sales in Rome – but continuing to use the Palazzo Lancellotti there for pre-sale viewings and valuations – and focusing only on disciplines with prospects that fit their business plan.

The Milan sales will be held twice a year, in the spring and autumn, in the ballroom of the Palazzo Clerici.

Managing director Clarice Perori-Giraldi explained that they would continue with Modern and Contemporary art because it was “strategic” in supporting the international market for Italian artists, as well as being one of the most active markets globally. Old Master sales will continue because Italy’s stringent restrictions prevent many works from being exported, so to stop sales in Italy would mean giving up that profitable market. Meanwhile Christie’s also want to build on what they believe is an 80 per cent share of the country’s jewellery auction market.

Christie’s new headquarters, in a 15th century former Medici bank at Via dei Bossi in Milan’s Brera district, puts them close to the wealthy buyers of Northern Italy, near to Venice and the cities of Emilia Romagna.

They will maintain a broad network of specialists in Milan and Rome to advise on and take in material destined for sale in Italy and for categories such as books, furniture and works of art, which will now be sent to their other venues, such as Amsterdam and Paris.

The overhaul of the firm’s Italian set-up follows a more dramatic withdrawal from Australia earlier this year. In that case, Christie’s decided that they would keep a team of specialist advisers for sourcing consignments but would no longer hold sales there. Their Australasian business was operating in a static market contributing only one per cent to their global revenues. The money could be spent better elsewhere in emerging markets such as Asia.

Although Italy probably has more prospects for expansion, it is a similar story, with goods consigned – including those sent elsewhere for sale – contributing 1.5 per cent to Christie’s global revenues, although buyers with Italian addresses contribute a rather higher nine per cent to the overall buying pool.

By Anne Crane