The Life of Christ, triptych signed 'Domsaitis' (two lower left; the other lower right) oil on board one 92.5 x 71cm (36 7/16 x 27 15/16in).; the others 80 x 63cm (31 1/2 x 24 13/16in). (3)
PROVENANCE: A private collection
LITERATURE: E. Verloren van Themaat, Pranas Domsaitis, (Cape Town and Johannesburg, 1976), annunciation scene illustrated in colour, fig.21; crucifixion scene illustrated in black and white, fig.22
Born on the border of Prussia and Lithuania, Pranas Domaitis developed a distinctive style of painting that fused Lithuanian folkloric art traditions replete with a mystical quality with an interest in both early ecclesiastical art and an emerging European Expressionism. After the First World War, he exhibited throughout Germany and Lithuania, often alongside artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Edvard Munch, garnering sufficient recognition, in turn, to be included in the Nazi government's notorious Exhibition of Degenerate Art in Munich in 1937. After the war, Domaitis struggled to exhibit in Germany, so when his wife, Adelheid Armhold, was offered a position at the University of Cape Town's College of Music, the couple moved to South Africa in 1949.
In South Africa, the artist was able to regain a relative sense of peace, and was inspired by the new subjects and stylistic traditions he encountered. Referred to by Elsa Verloren van Themaat as "an essentially spiritual man who needed to paint", Domaitis' religious themes so uncommon in modern South African art generally are amongst his most powerful. The triptych offers a series of psychological portraits of strongly emotive episodes in the Biblical narrative, conveyed through the shallow, fragmented picture space, strong contrasts and elongated forms. The triptych also features several key characteristics of Domaitis' work, among them, as Esme Berman points out, "the jewel-like colourings, the glowing moon, the heavy black outline and scumbled texture" (133)
A similar Crucifixion triptych (but featuring an adoration scene and not including an annunciation) sold at Stephan Welz & Co, Johannesburg, Monday 19, 2012, lot 738, and another appears in the collection of IZIKO South African National Gallery.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Verloren van Themaat, Pranas Domsaitis, (Cape Town and Johannesburg, 1976), p.18