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Taras Shevchenko

Encyclopedia of the life and works



Taras Shevchenko (25.02 (9.03) 1814 – 26.02 (10.03) 1861) – the largest Ukrainian poet, prophet of the new Ukrainian nation.

Taras Shevchenko born in the village Moryntsi шт Kyiv region (now Zvenigorod district of Cherkasy region) in a family of peasant serfs. He soon left an orphan – his mother died when Taras was only 9 years and one and half year later, his father died too. Taras studied literacy in local clerks. Around this time, aged 10 – 12 years old, he had a desire to draw.

In 1828 the landlord Paul Engelhardt decided Taras must be the servant of his yard. In this role he accompanied master during his stay in Vilnius (1828 – 1831 years) and St. Petersburg (from 1831). In St. Petersburg, the landlord gave Shevchenko for training to the painter Basil Shiryaev that lasted 4 years. Shevchenko later worked as an apprentice of Shiryaev, particularly in the coloring of the Bolshoi Theater (these paintings have not preserved).

Then in the Shevchenko's biography came time to wonder. While drawing sculpture in Summer garden, he met with Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko, and through him acquainted with Ukrainian poet Eugene Grebinka, arts critic Vasily Grigorovich, artist Alexei Venetsianov. Most important for Shevchenko was acquaintance with the poet Vasily Zhukovsky, who was at those time tutor of heir to the throne – the Crown Prince Alexander (the future Emperor Alexander 2nd).

All these people have chosen to help talented serf freed. Engelhardt desired by Shevchenko fantastically large ransom – 2500 rubles. To get the same amount Karl Brüllow painted a portrait of V. Zhukovsky, that had played the lottery.

Self-portrait 1840

After his release from serf status Shevchenko was able to enter the Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied with Karl Brüllow. The Academy he studied from 1838 to 1845, when he graduated with the title of non-class artist.

At the same time, Shevchenko showed a new creative passion – poetry. His first poetic work – the ballad "Mad girl"- was written in 1837, and later became a classic work of Ukrainian literature. Among these classic works also included the early poem "Catherine" (1839) and "Haydamaky" (1841).

In 1840 in St. Petersburg was published a small collection of poems by Shevchenko called "Kobzar". This book marked the beginning of a new – Shevchenko's – stage in the development of Ukrainian literature.

If the first Shevchenko's poetry inspired by the ruling in the 1830-th romantic cossack enthusiasm, starting from 1843 themes and tone of his poetry changed. In 1843, Shevchenko after 15-year break again visited Ukraine. with a new force he felt the tragedy of enslavement once free Ukrainian people, the loss of his political and national rights. Under the influence of these impressions Shevchenko turns into a spokesman of violated rights of Ukraine. His poems were a kind of program construction of a new Ukrainian nation, while remaining highly original literary works (not turning into rhymed manifestos or editorials).

Moved in 1845 to Kyiv, Shevchenko met here with several young Ukrainians – writer Panteleimon Kulish, poet and historian Nicholas Kostomarov, teachers Nicholas Gulak and Basil Belozersky. At the meetings they read poetry, spoke about Ukraine and then touch the fashionable issue of Pan-Slavism and Ukraine's place among the Slavic peoples.

For Russian gendarmes that was enough to implicate them in the creation of "Ukrainian-Slavic Society" (this name appears in the investigation, historiography adopted the name "Cyril and Methodius society"). In March – April 1847 members of the society were arrested and transferred to St. Petersburg. April 5, 1847 at the entrance to the Kyiv Shevchenko was arrested and was deprived his album "Three years" with final versions of his new political poetry.

This album, especially the poem "Dream" with a sharp satirical picture of the royal family became the main evidence against Shevchenko. May 30, 1847 Nicholas 1st approved sentences for members of society. Shevchenko was sentenced to soldiers. In the draft judgment Emperor personally added: "Under the strict supervision, with the prohibition of writing and drawing."

Self-portrait 1847

In 9 days Shevchenko was conveyed under gendarme escort from St. Petersburg to Orenburg, where he identified the service as a private in Orsk fortress. All the while being a soldier Shevchenko was forced to wander through fetid barracks. Although the sentence provided for a "right of seniority" and Shevchenko repeatedly were presented to an advance in the non-commissioned officers, this never happened – scared chiefs were afraid to sign their petition.

(For comparison, the Russian writer Fedor Dostoevsky in 1849 was sentenced to prison, in 1854 transferred to the army as a private, in 1855 promoted to non-commissioned officer in 1856 – to the lieutenant, and in 1859 was released from compulsory military service. Those same 10 years of suffering, but for Dostoevsky as a Russian nobleman was opened the road to seniority, which was closed for a Ukrainian serf Shevchenko).

Power of Shevchenko resistance increased in proportion to the pressure of the Russian government machine: in 1847 – 1850 years he, in spite of the ban, has created 145 poems – almost half of his poetic heritage. Among them – the poems "Princess", "Kings", "Centurion", "Petrus" and his poetic response to the emperor's judgment – poetry "N. N.": "I am punished, tormented… but I not confess!.. "

In 1848 Shevchenko's fate slightly improved – he was appointed to the expedition to survey the Aral Sea. Being formally as a private, he was doing sketches for the expedition. These sketches of people, nature and monuments are the first images from the territory of modern Kazakhstan.

After completion of the expedition in 1849 Shevchenko hoping for reward, and even the permission to paint. But the Russian government "rewarded" him in quite peculiar, purely Russian way: in 1850, Shevchenko was again arrested and brought to serve in Novopetrovsk fort (on Mangyshlak Peninsula in the Caspian Sea). There he spent seven years.

After the death of Nicholas the 1st and the coming to power of Alexander the 2nd many political prisoners, including members of the Decembrists and the Polish uprising of 1830 – 1831 were amnestied. Those who opposed the tsarist regime with arms were dismissed, but continued to keep in captivity Shevchenko, who spoke the word. The petition for his release lasted over two years, and only 24 July 1857 he was released.

"Will" for Shevchenko was limited, as it turned out, by police supervision and prohibition of entry to Moscow and St. Petersburg, after which he all winter in 1857 – 58 years held in Nizhny Novgorod. Only in March 1858 the ban was lifted, and March 27, 1858 Shevchenko returned to St. Petersburg. Return journey took as much as nine months – exactly 30 times slower than the way in captivity.

Self-portrait in a dark suit, in 1860

In St. Petersburg Shevchenko began practicing the art of printmaking and also took care of the re-release of his poetic works – even those which were once allowed by censorship. New, increased edition of "Kobzar" managed to release only in January 1860. Of course, the printing of such new poems as "Neophytes" (1857) or "Maria" (1859) then could not even dream (both poems were published only in 1876).

Two dreams Shevchenko cherished after release – to marry and settle in his own hut somewhere near Kyiv, on the Dnieper. These his dreams allegorically reflected in his engraving of the characteristic title "Herself in her house" (1859). He lovingly painted different projects of this hut, dreaming that he had been there a good workshop will have here… In 1859 he came to Kaniv district to personally choose the plot of land, but then he suffered a new disaster. Local Poles-landowners did not want to have such a nasty neighbor, provoked Shevchenko for "seditious" talk through which he was again – for the third time! – arrested and had to go to St. Petersburg.

Just failed Shevchenko dreams of marriage. His intention to marry with Lykera Polusmak ended complete rupture (September 1860), and shortly after Shevchenko sick at heart. This disease has progressed quickly and brought him to the grave.

Shevchenko lived only 47 years and has written few compared to contemporary writers (compared: works by A. I. Herzen consist of 30 volumes, I. S. Turgenev – 28 volumes, while Shevchenko's literary heritage does not exceed 6 volumes contemporary press). The same situation with painting heritage: there are almost no works in the technique of oil painting, while decisively dominated watercolors, pencil drawings and prints (namely oil painting is crucial when assessing the artist).

But the significance of his work is enormous. Shevchenko lifted the authority of the Ukrainian language and made it the irrevocable symbol of the Ukrainian people. He formulated in a common manner political ideal of the new Ukrainian nation and therefore rightly considered a prophet of the New Ukraine.

M. Zh., May 29, 2014.