ART is what brought them together, and now art is ripping them apart. Fourteen years ago, Geoffrey Smith, then a 20-year-old university student, was introduced to Robert Gould, a 34-year-old gallery owner, at a Sotheby's cocktail party in the chichi Melbourne suburb of Armadale.
That night, the two went out for dinner, talked about art and soon after began a relationship. But now, Mr Smith, a former curator at the National Gallery of Victoria who has since risen to Sotheby's chairman, is taking his ex-partner to court.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Victoria heard that Mr Smith wants half of the $30 million to $50 million fortune the couple accumulated during their relationship which, according to Mr Smith, includes about 1800 artworks by celebrated Australian and international artists.
"We do not ask for anything more than a 50 per cent contribution but we say that on the evidence . . . the reasonable apportionment is in the range of 40 to 50 per cent to the plaintiff," Mr Smith's counsel, Richard Kendall, QC, told the court.
Upon hearing these words, Mr Gould shook his head and his face turned a deep shade of red.
Mr Smith is suing his former partner in a case that was launched six years ago but only came to court this week. He is seeking at least four times more than Mr Gould allegedly offered him eight years ago, when he provided about $3.89 million of assets, including setting up Mr Smith in a South Yarra flat, giving him a BMW, five paintings, and waiving a $91,131 debt. Mr Smith denies an agreement was ever made.
"We say there was no such settlement . . . Certainly no terms were signed," Mr Kendall said.
Mr Smith claims the couple's assets at the time of their separation in June 2004 included at least $6 million in real estate, $11.6 million in art kept at the couple's South Yarra home, $8.3 million in art kept at Gould Galleries, and an extra $4.6 million in other assets, including cars, superannuation, bank accounts and a Sydney property.
"As we have pointed out, the figure . . . may go as high as over $50 million," Mr Kendall said.
For the past two days, Mr Kendall has been arguing that Mr Smith's expertise on Australian and international art was instrumental in building Mr Gould's business, South Yarra's Gould Galleries, and thus fundamental to the couple's wealth.
Yesterday, Mr Smith took to the witness box and spoke about his achievements at the NGV.
The case resumes today.