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German painter Sigmar Polke dead at 69

One of Germany's most important painters, the modernist Sigmar Polke, has died aged 69 after a long battle with cancer, his dealer Erhard Klein said on Friday.

Polke was best known for the Capitalist Realism movement he began in the 1960s, an ironic response to the Soviet Union's official art doctrine of Socialist Realism and the American Pop Art scene.

He used the imagery of Pop Art including ordinary foods as a starting point but manipulated them to the point of abstraction, making the familiar foreign.

An avid experimentalist, Polke moved fluidly between styles and media all the while maintaining his signature bemused distance in his work, which also included photography and graphic arts.

Born in Lower Silesia in today's Poland, Polke won many of the coveted prizes of the art world including the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale in 1986.

Klein said that with Polke's death, the German art scene had lost one of its "most colourful personalities".

Culture Minister Bernd Neumann called Polke "one of the most important and successful representatives of contemporary German art".

"He was a critical, ironic and also self-deprecating observer of post-war history and its artistic commentator," he said.

"With a desire for experimentation, he developed his own language in images. Sigmar Polke, the 'alchemist of colours', leaves behind a unique body of artistic work."