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Coming To Light: 180-Year-Old Painting Found in Garage

A painting by the founder of Adelaide, Colonel William Light, has been discovered in a suburban garage.

The year is 1836, the sun is shining, and British surveyor Colonel William Light is on the banks of the River Torrens in Adelaide, taking in the view.

That's the picture historians are painting of how a rare piece of art by Light, the founder of the South Australian capital, came to be. It captures a time and place nearly two centuries ago, as Colonel Light began planning how the city of Adelaide would look.

The 182 year old painting was unveiled on Monday. Image: 10 News First

Rich in detail, it depicts a farmhouse surrounded by tents and huts, with several colonists nearby. Campfires are roaring, cattle are grazing, and in the background lies the Mount Lofty Ranges.

It's one of the earliest illustrations of Adelaide by its founder and it's been sitting in a suburban garage for decades.

A widow discovered the 182 year old painting after he husband died in February, but she had no idea of its value. Even experts had a hard time confirming the artist behind the masterpiece - until art dealer Jim Elder cracked the case.

"If Donald Bradman's baggy cap can bring $100,000.. this work is far more important than Donald Bradman to the city of Adelaide and the people of Adelaide," he told 10 daily on Monday.

It took a lot of research and close examination to confirm Light as the artist. Elder says he couldn't resist waking his wife to share the news - even though it was 2am!

"I said to her, we could buy this, you know..." he joked.

"And she said, 'you wouldn't dare!'"

Lord Mayor of Adelaide Sandy Verschoor was unveiled the work publicly for the first time on Monday.

"The fact that he was a prolific artist, as well as being the surveyor of the city of Adelaide is historically important," she said.

Some of the tiny details captured in Light's painting. Image: 10 News First

READ MORE: Thief Steals Painting From Art Gallery In Broad Daylight

Light was born in Malaysia in 1786, and educated in England, before joining the military. According to the Historical Society of South Australia, he sailed to Kangaroo Island in 1836 and was tasked with charting the state and choosing a location for its capital city - which he named Adelaide.

He was well known for his artistic talent - but almost all of his work was destroyed in a house fire in 1839, and Light also died later that year. Most of the pieces that were saved are now found at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

A statue of Colonel Light sits atop Montefiore Hill in Adelaide, and overlooks the city he created.

If you're keen to get your hands on a piece of SA history (and you have deep pockets), the painting will go to auction in November.

READ MORE: Bob Hawke's Booze Collection, Cigars And Art Up For Grabs In Huge Auction

Contact the author: tryan@networkten.com.au