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Light's vision again disappears from view

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A painting of Adelaide attributed to Colonel William Light has been bought by a private collector after argument over its authenticity, in a move a prominent art dealer calls a “tragedy for South Australia”.

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Hailed by Elder Fine Arts dealer Jim Elder as a “rare and historic painting”, it was valued at between $90,000 and $120,000, but was passed in at auction on Sunday after a single bid of $20,000 following media reports of an art historian’s doubts about the work.

Elder said today that the painting had since been bought by a private collector for an undisclosed sum, and he was “bitterly disappointed” it had been “lost to South Australian society”.

“This important piece of South Australian history may not be seen again for generations,” he said.

“I am particularly disappointed that a commercial television station last week chose to air an item from an interstate amateur art historian debunking the provenance of this work.”

The unsigned watercolour, said to have been one of the earliest depictions of Adelaide, was found in an old chest at Victor Harbor earlier this year.

The work shows a farmhouse, tents and colonists, with the Mt Lofty Ranges in the background.

Elder said in September that it had been painted by Light in 1837, around the time the Surveyor-General was laying out the state capital.

He said today that “months of painstaking art history and genealogical research” had traced its provenance to a man called Shimmin, who had worked for Light’s surveyor colleague William Jacob in the Barossa Valley, and the painting had remained in the Shimmin family for generations.

Light painted many works and sold some to support himself. But others were lost in an 1839 fire which destroyed his house.

Most surviving works are displayed in the Art Gallery of South Australia, State Library and Town Hall.

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