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The operation will now be run by picture specialist and vice-chairman Geoffrey Smith and CEO Gary Singer, a Melbourne lawyer and former deputy lord mayor for the city. The pair join three other investors with equal 20 per cent shares in the business.

Mr Goodman, 56, has spent four decades in the auction world. A porter in his teens, he opened his own general auction house, First East Auction Holdings in Sydney, before joining forces with Robert Brooks in 2003 to form Bonhams & Goodman, a rival to the established international brand Sotheby's.

Ultimately Goodman's ambition never ceased and he severed ties with Bonhams at the end of 2009 when offered the chance to run Sotheby's Australia, a moment he called "the most exciting day of my life". If this is to be his final act, then his unashamedly Aussie auctioneering style, sense of humour and salesman's charm will undoubtedly be missed on the circuit.

Stepping down last week, Goodman told the Australian press: ''I am very pleased with that journey and now I feel ready, at this stage in my life, having reached the pinnacle of my career, to step aside and leave younger and talented people to take over the reins.''

Geoffrey Smith, for 15 years a specialist in Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, helped build Bonhams & Goodman's picture department over four years.

Goodman's departure proved the final chapter in a tumultuous 2010 for the Australian art market, a year that brought a fight to protect the status of art in personal pension schemes, the introduction of the artists' resale right and a tangled web of auction house buyouts, name changes and shifts in personnel.

By Marika Clemow