Steven Murphy, the chief executive officer of Christie’s decided to step down from his position by the end of this year.Patricia Barbizet, the current chairman of Christie’s will take over Murphy’s position.

Christie’s is the world’s largest fine arts auction house based in London. It is a privately-held company owned by Francois Pinault, a luxury tycoon in France.

Murphy’s departure surprised the art world

The art world was surprised by Murphy’s decision since the auction house recently reported record fall sales.  Christie’s achieved the biggest auction sale in November with its record-breaking $850 million sale of a contemporary art  in just two hours.

Sothebys vs christie

Murphy became CEO of Christie’s in 2010. According to him, his decision was “mutual and amenable,” and he wanted to leave the company on a “high note.”

Christie’s competitor, Sothebys (NYSE:BID) also announced a few weeks ago that its CEO William Ruprecht will step down after 14 years in his position. The company created search committee for his successor.

Ruprecht decided to vacate his position amid the pressure from the board of directors of the company. Activist investor, Daniel Loeb fought to obtain seats on the board of Sothebys (NYSE:BID). He voted for Ruprecht’s departure.

“Christie’s is at the top of its game”

In a statement, Murphy said Christie’s is now in the “strongest leadership position” in the history of the company. According to him, they successfully concluded the company’s ambitious three year plan.

“When Mr. Pinault and Madame Barbizet brought me into Christie’s, I was tasked with helping to modernize the company and enable it to grow in the new world in which we operate, while maintaining its extraordinary spirit and culture, and consistently focusing on the art itself. Christie’s is at the top of its game, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Murphy.

Murphy is famous in the auction world as an outsider. He entered the art world elite in part by showing his demeanor as an anti-snob. He encouraged the staff of Christie’s to become open-minded about selling arts online, which was minimally considered prior to his arrival. He established an amiable rapport with art collectors.

Murphy plans to stay in London with his family, but he did not provide details regarding his future career plans. He is best remembered at Christie’s for pushing the company’s business in mainland China, establishing a presence in India and expanding its share in contemporary arts and online art sales.