Europe Chairman Henry Wyndham Departs Sotheby’s

He's been called "the best auctioneer in the business.”

Henry Wyndham.
Photo: Kena Betancur, Getty Images.

Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, is the latest in a string of high-placed figures to leave the auction house in recent months. Wyndham departs after two decades with the company.

“After 22 extraordinary years as Chairman of Sotheby’s, I have decided the time has come for a change,” says Wyndham in a statement. “I’ve been thinking about it for at least a year, and have now decided this is the moment.” He did not elaborate on his future plans, however.

The news comes one business day after the news of the departure of David Norman, vice chairman of Sotheby’s Americas and co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, and Alex Rotter, global co-head of the contemporary art department, veterans of the auction house who served there for 31 years and 15 years, respectively.

Wyndham manned the podium at the sale of Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme qui marche I, which sold for $104 million at Sotheby’s London in February 2010, at the time the highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art. He also helmed the sale that remains the auction record for any Old Master picture, when Peter Paul RubensMassacre of the Innocents sold for $76.5 million in February 2002.

“That was the greatest picture I ever sold,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

In his capacity as Sotheby’s client and business development activities in the United Kingdom and Europe, Wyndham also coaxed collectors to bring their treasures to Sotheby’s rather than its rivals. That resulted in the house selling Raphael’s Head of a Young Apostle from the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth for $47.9 million in December 2012, an auction record for an Old Master drawing.

Wyndham was at the rostrum for the highest-grossing sale in Sotheby’s history: the November 2014 auction of Impressionist and modern art in New York, which brought some $422.1 million.

Wyndham got his start in the Old Master paintings department at Christie’s London, and took his first turn as an auctioneer in 1977. He was promoted to run the 19th-century paintings department in New York in 1978, and would head the Victorian pictures and modern British paintings departments before leaving in 1987 to become a dealer. In 1994, he joined Sotheby’s as a UK Chairman and was appointed European Chairman in 1997.

Wyndham also earned the unlikely distinction, in 2012, of being the only auctioneer in recent memory to have sustained a gunshot wound to the face. During a grouse hunting expedition, a fellow hunter accidentally sprayed him with lead pellets, which hit his arm, throat, and face. The Telegraph reported that his vision was spared by the solid eyeglasses he was wearing at the time.

Wyndham is part of a wave of departures from the nearly 300-year-old auction house.

News of his exit follows the house’s acquisition last month of the consulting firm Art Agency, Partners (AAP), for $50 million—plus additional performance incentive costs of up to $35 million. Ex-Christie’s contemporary head Amy Cappellazzo and high-powered advisor Allan Schwartzman formed AAP in 2014.

This month also saw the exit of Melanie Clore, the house’s European chairman and worldwide co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art, who announced her departure after some thirty-five years.

In November, the company offered buyouts to a number of employees in a cost-cutting measure, noting in an email sent to staff and obtained by Bloomberg that layoffs would result if an insufficient number of employees chose buyouts. Those calling it quits since then include longtime Sotheby’s executive and finance expert Mitchell Zuckerman; Polly Sartori, head of 19th-century European art in New York; and Anthony Grant, Aileen Agopian, and Scott Nussbaum from the New York contemporary art department.

Among other tough news for the house was its loss—initially estimated at $12 million—on the November sale of the collection of its late former chairman, A. Alfred Taubman. The house had guaranteed Taubman’s heirs the hefty sum of half a billion dollars on the collection, which included major artists such as Amedeo ModiglianiPablo PicassoWillem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, but resulted in disappointing totals.

A year ago, the house named former Madison Square Garden CEO Tad Smith its new chief executive after a nasty battle with activist investor Daniel Loeb over the direction of the company, resulting in Loeb’s joining the board along with former investment banker Olivier Reza and turnaround specialist Harry Wilson, both nominated by Loeb.

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