Exhibitions were held and art books of Nora Heysen's life works were published, always with this one wonderful still life painting missing.
Many knew of it because there were photos of Nora sitting with it, palette in hand, still working on its details in her studio. The photos were lovingly kept by her famous father, Sir Hans Heysen, and have remained on show in the Heysen home, The Cedars, at Hahndorf.
The painting itself vanished into a realm of mystery, leaving arts boffins scratching their heads and gossiping about it for decades. They knew it was painted in 1930 when the artist was only 19 and it was exhibited at the Royal Society for the Arts in Adelaide and Sydney. It was said to have won a medal. They knew a private collector had bought it from a friend of Hans Heysen's in the 1960s.
But who? Where was it?
Now, in the centenary of the artist's birth, it has been found while its owner, reported to be elderly and of "old Adelaide" blood, was culling back possessions to move into residential care.
She wishes to remain private, and perhaps is surprised at the hue and cry that broke out when she put the painting up for auction on May 15 through Elder Fine Art.
"It's a treasure emerged," said Allan Campbell, curator of The Cedars, the rural home, gallery and studios where the Heysens raised their eight children.
"We have not seen this type of composition a lot from Nora Heysen. She did plenty of flowers but rarely fruit and vegetables. Let's hope it is purchased by the State Gallery to go with its early Heysens."
Heysen's works are represented in the National Gallery of Australia and many state galleries. Mr Campbell said the last Nora Heysen to go on the market, a self-portrait, was sold to an interstate gallery for about $160,000. This early, exquisitely detailed oil, showing vegetables from the Heysen kichen garden, is expected to sell for between $18,000 and $25,000, says Jim Elder, of Elder Fine Art.
Nora Heysen, who died in 2003, was a prodigy painter overshadowed by the renown of her landscapist father. She was the first woman to win The Archibald and was Australia's first female war artist. For the love of a man, she relegated her painting for many years, until art expert Lou Klepac thrust her talents back into the limelight.