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Taras Shevchenko

Encyclopedia of the life and works


Parable of prodigal son (1856 – 1857)

The parable of the prodigal son. Paper, ink, bistre. (Novopetrovsk fort). (XI 1856 – V 1857).

June 26, 1857 Shevchenko wrote in his diary of his intention to issue a series of satirical engravings titled "The Parable of the prodigal son":

"…I think in time to publish in the engraving and aquatint own offspring – "Parable of the prodigal son", adapted to a modern customs of the merchant class. I shared this instructive parable on twelve figures, they are almost all done on paper. But I should work over them for a long time and diligently to bring them to a state where they can be transferred to copper".

Shevchenko emphasizes the need satire to remedy the evils of contemporary society:

"We need a clever, well-aimed, loyal, and most importantly – do not comical, dramatic sarcasm rather than ridicule… It is a pity that deceased Fedotov don't came across this rich idea, he would have worked out of it gracefully satire in our dark semi-tatar merchants.

I think that for our time and for our semi-literate middle class needs satire, but satire clever, noble. This, for example, as a "Groom" by Fedotov or "Own people – clear accounts" by Ostrovsky and "Inspector" by Gogol… I would consider myself the happiest man in the world would I can so sincerely enjoy my unconscious wretch, my prodigal son".

Date of execution of these drawings set after the letters Shevchenko to Br. Zaleski. In the first, from 8.XI 1856, Shevchenko reported on his plan, and the second, from 10.V 1857, wrote that he executed the only 8 figures from planned series and the first four he started in the absence of facial features, but hopes to finish them in Moscow or St. Petersburg. In the same letter Shevchenko said that in the absence of sepia for the job, he mixed bistre with ink, which gave the tone close to sepia.

In literature one can meet false statements about the presence of author's inscriptions on the back of pictures Series "The parable of the prodigal son" [V. I. Kasian, On the dating of some Shevchenko sepia, "Art", Moscow, 1939, № 2, p. 58].

Some researchers of Shevchenko painting heritage attributed to this series also sepia "Gypsy" entitled "On stage" (see note to number 14).

After the death of Shevchenko all eight pictures kept in M. M. Lazarevsky, and then in V. M. Lazarevsky. In 1899, his son S. Lazarevsky had announced the sale of his collection of pictures Shevchenko. Due to sales figures from the series "The parable of the prodigal son" passed to the hands of four collectors.

In 1939 drawings series "The parable of the prodigal son" exhibited at the Republican Shevchenko Jubilee Exhibition, Kyiv (Product, № 245 – 253).

G. P. Palamarchuk

After publication: Taras Shevchenko Complete Works in 10 volumes. – Kyiv: ed. Academy of sciences of UkrSSR, 1964, v. 9, p. 38 – 39 (note).