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Taras Shevchenko

Encyclopedia of the life and works


Portrait of an unknown

Taras Shevchenko. Portrait of an unknown

Taras Shevchenko. Portrait of an unknown. 1837. [St. Petersburg].
Bristol paper, watercolour. 21,4 × 18,7 cm
Taras Shevchenko National Museum, № g-823.

On the back – sketch "Hand".

Right at the bottom author's date and signature in pencil: 1837 // Шевченко.

Described in 1911 as "Portrait of an unknown individual. From the collection of E. Reitern" [Images by Shevchenko / by artistic care of prof. V.V. Mate. – SPb., 1911. – Vol. I. – T. 5]. V.G. Shchurat in 1914 described it as a portrait of Eugene Grebinka, explaining it this way: "It suffice compare with the famous portrait of Grebinka" [Shchurat V. On the life and works of Taras Shevchenko. – Lviv, 1914. – P. 9]. As a portrait of Grebinka it was placed it the book by A.P. Novitsky (with some doubts about Shevchenko's authorship) [Novitsky, Ol. Taras Shevchenko as a painter. – Lviv, Moscow, 1914. – S. 82], then to many other publications, also PZT [Shevchenko T. Complete Works: in 10 vols. – K., 1961. – T. 7, bk. 1. – S. 9. – № 11].

However, S. Taranushenko thought it as portrait of an unknown [Taranushenko S. On the early watercolor portraits by Taras Shevchenko // Anniversary book in honor of Academician M.S.Hrushevsky. – K., 1928. – S. 98 – 102], defending the opinion that it is paired with portrait of a woman.

Then, comparing this work with three portraits of Eugene Grebinka by work Apollo Mokrytsky, L.F. Stetsenko concluded that Shevchenko was shown another person [Stetsenko L.A. Mysteries unraveled: literary story. – K., 1966. – S. 15 – 48]. B.S. Butnyk-Seversky, who believed that depicted was Grebinka, based on the fact the portrait was in the collection of Evgraf Evgrafovych Reitern, son of artist and collector Evgraf Romanovich Reitern, contemporary of Shevchenko and friend of M.M.Lazarevsky. In the letter-answer of the Russian Museum from April 5, 1955 contains the record from the E. E. Reitern's inventory book, composed by collector in connection with the transfer in 1918 of his collection to the museum: "Portrait of Grebinka 1837 wc. on Bristol paper 150 × 150 [E.E. Reitern indicates the size of the visible portion of the framed work]. Purchased from Lazarevsky". This record, according to the author, gives reason to believe that M. Lazarevsky, who eventually sold the work to Ye.R. Reitern, "know Grebinka well, and attribution of the work as Grebinka's image could be done only after the words of the Michael Lazarevsky" [Butnyk-Seversky B. Definitely – a portrait of Eugene Grebinka! // Soviet literary studies. – 1968. – № 10. – S. 69 – 77].

However, we have no information that Ye.R. Reitern posessed some Shevchenko's works. His son E.E. Reitern showed interest in the artistic heritage of the artist, had a few watercolors and etchings, mostly purchased from legacy of S. Lazarevsky from his father – V.M. Lazarevsky – collection. Mediators of sales were M.V. and I.I. Lazarevsky [Around legacy of T.H. Shevchenko // Taras Shevchenko in Nizhny Novgorod. – Gorky, 1939. – S. 133 – 153]. There is no specific note when and from who of Lazarevsky Reitern acquired this portrait. However, in 1985 in the engraving section of the Russian Museum was found E.E. Reitern's autograph of the list of Shevchenko's works belonged to him. It became a persuasive counterargument against "Grebinka's" concept of work history, and hence its attribution. In the list, in the "Watercolor" section noted seven figures, and No. 2 says: "Half-sized portrait of the sitting man with shank in right hand on the backs of chairs. 1837. Shevchenko. 150 × 150. On bristol paper. Good sheet". So, while compiling a list E.E. Reitern thought work as "Portrait of sitting man", not E. Grebinka. As "Portrait of an unknown individual" it was published in the publication "Images of Shevchenko", mentioned above. Only after the publications of V.G. Shchurat and mostly O.P. Novitsky owner corrects title of the work and later in its inventory records as "Portrait of Grebinka".

After the L.F. Stetsenko's publication questions about the depicted person was open again. So M.E. Gasko proposed version, that watercolor shows V.F. Odojevski [Gasko M. Portrait V.F. Odojevski // Literary Ukraine. – 1976. – 25 May; His On some "methods" of scientific controversy // Soviet literary studies. – 1981. – № 12. – p. 71 – 72]. However, such attribution was denied by other researchers on the basis of the known iconography of V.F. Odojevski [Palamarchuk G.P. On some new attributions and dating of Shevchenko's paintings // Questions of Shevchenko. – K., 1978. – S. 74 – 76].

There was also an attempt to attribute work as "Portrait of Jacob de Balmen" and date it, despite the author's date, as 1845 – 1846. [A. Kuzmenko To reveal the portrait of an unknown // Imaging art. – 1989. – № 1. – S. 15 – 16] The main argument of the author, that "Shevchenko was excited by death the friend, so must reflect this event by means of painting", has no documentation.

Thus, a depicted person remains unknown.

Storage areas: no later than 1911 purchased by E.E. Reitern; since 1918 – the State Russian Museum (St. Petersburg); from 1929 – Taras Shevchenko Institute; from 1932 – Gallery of pictures by T.H. Shevchenko (Kharkiv); from 1940 – Central Museum of T.H. Shevchenko (Kyiv); from 1948 – State Museum of T.H. Shevchenko (Kyiv).


1911. St. Petersburg. Shevchenko exhibition at the Art Academy [Speech. – 1911. – 27 February, the Council. – 1911. – March 3];

1939. Kyiv. Shevchenko Jubilee Exhibition [Republican Shevchenko Jubilee Exhibition in Kiev: Product-guide. – K., 1941. – S. 22. – № 97];

1951. Moscow. Art Exhibition of USSR [Exhibition of imaging art of Ukrainian SSR. Painting, Sculpture, Graphics: Product. – Kiev, 1951. – S. 105];

1964. Kyiv – Moscow. Shevchenko Jubilee Exhibition [Jubilee art exhibition on the 150-year anniversary of the birth of T.H. Shevchenko: Product. – Kiev, 1964. – S. 5];

1984. Kyiv. Shevchenko-artist. 170-th birthday [Shevchenko-artist: Exhibition Catalogue. – K., 1986. – S. 8];

1985. Kyiv. Museum of Kyiv. Shevchenko-portrait (no catalogue).

I.M. Verykivska

After publication: T.H. Shevchenko Complete Works in 12 volumes. – K.: Naukova Dumka, 2003, v. 7, p. 36 – 37 (image), p. 364 – 366 (notes).

Additional images