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The South African Pranas Domsaitis

Pranas Domsaitis was an artist of Prussian descent, who opted for a Lithuanian passport in 1920. As Nazi Germany took control of Europe, artists like Domsaitis were seen as a threat to the Führer’s idea of domination and control. Refusing to give in to the oppressor’s tactics, Pranas Domsaitis continued painting “harmless still lifes”. The frontiers of South African art were furthest from his mind.

Life in war-torn Europe was a struggle at the best of times and for artists like Domsaitis this was a cause for concern. So when his wife, Adelheid Armhold, was offered a senior position at the then Cape Town college the couple were happy to make the move down south.

He undoubtedly made an impression on post-war South African art. He introduced some of the latest expressionist influences and brought a fresh approach to art. Some commentators note that he was deeply spiritual man, Elsa Verloren van Themaat said he was “an essentially spiritual man who needed to paint”. (quote credit

South African landscapes were some of Pranas Domsaitis' favourite places
South African landscapes were some of Pranas Domsaitis’ favourite places

He enjoyed painting landscapes and village life. His travels through the South African countryside, namely the Karoo, left Domsaitis in a state of awe; leading to various portraits of these vast landscapes. True to his religious beliefs, he often painted christian themes as well. Among them were portraits of the annunciation and crucifixion.

He passed on at the end of 1965. The following year he was honoured by the National Gallery in Cape Town with an exhibition of about two hundred of his art works. A large number of his works have since been transferred to the Lithuanian Art Museum and in 2001 the Pranas Domsaitis Gallery opened in Klaipeda, Lithuania; a fitting tribute to the life of this much adored artist.