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BERLIN (Reuters) - Willi Sitte, one of the most prominent painters of former Communist East Germany, whose talent also brought him recognition in the West, has died at the age of 92 after a long illness, German media reported on Saturday.
Sitte was one of the leading representatives of East Germany's officially-sanctioned "socialist realism" style, depicting everyday scenes relevant to workers and pointing to the advantages of life in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Sitte was born in Czechoslovakia in 1921 but later moved to Germany to study art. He served in the German armed forces during World War Two, before deserting in 1944 to fight with Italian partisan forces.
After the war, he settled in East Germany, where he later served as a member of the central committee of the ruling Communist party, the SED. That gave him a role in deciding which artists had the approval of the state in the country's tightly-controlled arts scene.
Sitte's artistic reputation - cemented by an exhibition of his paintings in Kassel in West Germany in 1977 - survived the end of Communism and the reunification of Germany in 1990.
Many of his paintings pay homage to the working class but he also dealt with themes such as war, fascism and the oppression of minorities.
Katja Kipping, Bernd Riexinger and Gregor Gysi, leaders of Germany's socialist Linke party, expressed sadness at Sitte's death.
"Willi Sitte was a unique artist and a person who also used his art for political purposes," they said in a statement. "Most people - not only those in East Germany - remember his big, powerful pictures, which radiated huge strength and provoked controversy."
Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by Tom Pfeiffer