The creator of Lithuanian banknotes, Antanas Žmuidzinavičius


Today is the 31st of October. It makes 142 years since the birth of one of the most famous painters in Lithuania, Antanas Žmuidzinavičius (1876-1966).

A short biography 

Antanas was born in Seirijai, Lazdijai District (Seirijai Gymnasium is now named after him). He started studying painting in Warsaw in 1899 and gained experience in various Western European cities (Munich, Paris and others) and the US after his studies.

Throughout his life, Žmuidzinavičius painted more than 2,000 paintings, mostly landscapes and portraits. He also created thematic compositions, posters and decorated a number of books. He was also famous for being a public figure and a collector. Žmuidzinavičius collected folk art. He also gathered quite a large collection of devils, which later gave a start to the Devils’ Museum in Kaunas established in 1965.
Together with others, he organised the First Exhibition of Lithuanian Art in 1907, established the Lithuanian Art Society and was its Chairman for a while.

Žmuidzinavičius also contributed to the creation of national symbols. First of all - the design of Lithuania’s flag, which was discussed even when Lithuania was still a part of the Russian Empire. The Great Seimas of Vilnius of 1905 refused the flag design of Vytis on a red background due to its associations with socialists. Talks about the country’s flag design began again only in 1917. The decision was made to select the colours from the most dominant ones in folk costumes and sashes. For the 1917 Conference in Vilnius, painter Antanas Žmuidzinavičius submitted a green-and-red Lithuanian flag project. The theatre hall where the Conference took place was adorned by this flag. However, Conference participants found this Žmuidzinavičius’ submission to be grim. During the Conference, another project of the flag was prepared, as suggested by Tadas Daugirdas. His suggestion was to include a thin yellow line between red and green symbolising dawn to make the flag more lively. But the Lithuanian Conference could not make a final decision, so the issue was delegated to a Commission formed by the Council of Lithuania and comprised of Jonas Basanavičius, Antanas Žmuidzinavičius and Tadas Daugirdas. This Commission decided to alter Žmuidzinavičius’ suggestion to include one more colour - yellow. On 19 April 1918, the Commission adopted the Lithuanian flag project that consisted of three stripes of uniform width - yellow, green and red.

The painter also created a Vytis design that was widely used in Lithuania during the interwar period, although it did not receive an official status. This design of Vytis was also featured on the first issues of Lietuvos Aidas. Vytis was chosen as a symbolic logo of this newspaper. Lietuvos Aidas was also the newspaper that published the text of the Act of Independence of 16 February. By the way, Žmuidzinavičius also worked for this newspaper.

 Antanas Žmuidzinavičius - the creator of the first Lithuanian money

Žmuidzinavičius also contributed to the creation of the first Lithuanian money after the war.

After the Declaration of Lithuania’s Independence, the adoption of the national currency was also considered. This was finally accomplished with the adoption of litas in 1922. Up to that point, marks that were intended for the Germany’s occupied territory of Ostland (ostmarks) were used as currency in Lithuania, although they were renamed in Lithuania to auksinas. There were a lot of discussions on their replacement. In 1919, there was some work done towards the adoption of national money. A new name was created, muštinis, along with its design, and Žmuidzinavičius was one of its authors. There were even negotiations started with Sweden for the printing of muštinis, but Lithuania was not strong enough yet to adopt a new currency. The idea was abandoned and only a few projects of muštinis have survived to this day (more information).

On 2 October 1922, litas was introduced. In the beginning, temporary litas banknotes printed in Germany were used. They were printed in a rush, so there was no detailed design created. The printer had already printed the marks of Germany and Estonia, so it had a stock of some banknote drawings, base patterns and other details. The Lithuanian text and Vytis were added to the drawings that were chosen. This Vytis closely resembled the design created by Žmuidzinavičius. It is quite possible that this Vytis was also designed by him.

After that, many issues of litas were printed. The banknotes improved, gained more security features and, most importantly, their design was created by Lithuanian artists. Žmuidzinavičius also had the honour to contribute to it. He was assigned to create the design of the 10 litas banknote issued on 24 November 1927. The banknote had to symbolise Lithuania as the land of agriculture. It was decided that it should feature a beautiful Lithuanian cottage. Žmuidzinavičius started searching for one and Antanas Tamošaitis, a textile artist, lent him a photo of his cottage. He found it suitable and put it on the 10 litas banknote. Interestingly, the man that is sowing grains in the photo is Tamošaitis’ brother and thus his image was immortalised on the banknote.

Žmuidzinavičius did not create any more banknotes. In 1926-1940 he taught painting at Kaunas School of Arts. In 1941-1951 he taught at Kaunas Institute of Applied Arts. In 1947, he was awarded the title of professor.

Žmuidzinavičius died in 1966 in Kaunas. He was buried at Petrašiūnai cemetery in Kaunas.

The most expensive paintings by Žmuidzinavičius

Since we are talking about this famous Lithuanian painter and money, we have to mention his most expensive paintings.

The top three most expensive paintings (Source):

1.    The painting that was sold at the most expensive price at XXVIII Vilnius Auction was “Dzūkai village”. It was sold for €53,579.70. Starting price was €25,776.18. Year: 1910. Oil on canvas.

2.    “Mushroom Pickers in the Sun”. Sold at the XXXIX Vilnius Auction for €32,000. Starting price was €12,800. Year: 1932. Oil on canvas.

3.     “Shepherd”. Sold at the XLVIII Vilnius Auction for €19,000. Starting price was €19,000. Year: around 1944. Oil on canvas.