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Published on: Mar 4, 2016
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Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (Ukrainian:
нко, Taras Hryhorovych
Shevchenko; March 9 [O.S. February 25] 1814 – March
10 [O.S. February 26] 1861) was a Ukrainian poet and
artist. He is also known under the name Kobzar after
his most famous literary work, a collection of poems
entitled Kobzar. His literary heritage is regarded to be
the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and, to
a large extent, the modern Ukrainian language.
Shevchenko is also known for many masterpieces as a
painter and an illustrator.
Born into a serf peasant family of Hryhoriy Ivanovych
Shevchenko (1782? – 1825) and Kateryna Yakymivna
Shevchenko (Boiko) (1782? – August 6, 1823) of Cossack
descent in the village of Moryntsi, of Kyiv Governorate of
the Russian Empire (now in Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine)
Shevchenko grew up in the neighboring village of Kyrylivka
that today carries the name Shevchenkove. The
Shevchenko family moved to Kyrylivka soon after the birth
of Taras. Two years later in Kerelivka, Taras's sister Yaryna
was born. In the fall of 1822 Taras started to take some
grammar classes at a local Dyak. On September 1, 1823
Taras' mother passed away. A month later his father
married Oksana Tereshchenko. Tereshchenko already had
three children. In 1824 Taras, along with his father, became
a traveling merchant (chumak). At the age of eleven Taras
became an orphan when, in the spring of 1825, his father
died a serf in corvée.
Newly arrived in Kyiv as an apprentice, Taras went to
work for Dyak Bohorsky. Soon tired of enduring
Bohorsky's mistreatment, Shevchenko ran away to
seek out a painting master in the surrounding villages.
For several days he worked for Deacon Yefrem in
Lysianka, later in other places around in southern Kyiv
Governorate. In 1827 Shevchenko herded community
sheeps near his village. He then meets Oksana
Kovalenko, a childhood friend, whom Shevchenko
mentions in his works on multiple occasions.
Shevchenko went as a household servant with his
Russian aristocrat lord Pavel Engelhardt to Vilnius
(1828–31) and then to Saint Petersburg.
"Engelhardt noticed Shevchenko's artistic talent, and
apprenticed him in Vilnius to Jan Rustem, then in
Saint Petersburg to Vasiliy Shiriaev for four years...
There he met the Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko, who
introduced him to other compatriots such as Yevhen
Hrebinka and Vasyl Hryhorovych, and to the Russian
painter Alexey Venetsianov. Through these men
Shevchenko also met the famous painter and professor
Karl Briullov, who donated his portrait of the Russian
poet Vasily Zhukovsky as a lottery prize, whose
proceeds were used to buy Shevchenko's freedom on
May 5, 1838.
In the same year Shevchenko was accepted as a student
into the Academy of Arts in the workshop of Karl Briullov.
The next year he became a resident student at the
Association for the Encouragement of Artists. At the
annual examinations at the Imperial Academy of
Arts, Shevchenko was given a Silver Medal for a landscape.
In 1840 he again received the Silver Medal, this time for his
first oil painting, The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog.
He began writing poetry while he was a serf and in 1840 his
first collection of poetry, Kobzar, was published. Ivan
Franko, the renowned Ukrainian poet in the generation
after Shevchenko, had this to say of the compilation:
"[Kobzar] immediately revealed, as it were, a new world of
poetry. It burst forth like a spring of clear, cold water, and
sparkled with a clarity, breadth and elegance of artistic
expression not previously known in Ukrainian writing".
In 1841, the epic poem Haidamaky was released. In
September 1841, Shevchenko was awarded his third Silver
Medal for The Gypsy Fortune Teller. Shevchenko also wrote
plays. In 1842, he released a part of the tragedy Mykyta
Haidai and in 1843 he completed the drama Nazar Stodolia.
While residing in Saint Petersburg, Shevchenko made three
trips to the regions of Ukraine, in 1843, 1845, and 1846. The
difficult conditions under which his countrymen lived had
a profound impact on the poet-painter. Shevchenko visited
his still enserfed siblings and other relatives, met with
prominent Ukrainian writers and intellectuals such as:
Yevhen Hrebinka, Panteleimon Kulish, and Mykhaylo
Maksymovych, and was befriended by the princely Repnin
family especially Varvara Repnina.
In 1844, distressed by the condition of Ukrainian regions in
the Russian Empire, Shevchenko decided to capture some
of his homeland's historical ruins and cultural monuments
in an album of etchings, which he called Picturesque
On March 22, 1845, the Council of the Academy of Arts
granted Shevchenko the title of an artist. He again
travelled to Ukraine where he met historian Nikolay
Kostomarov and other members of the Brotherhood of
Saints Cyril and Methodius, a Pan-Slavist political
society dedicated to the political liberalization of the
Empire and transforming it into a federation-like
polity of Slavic nations. Upon the society's suppression
by the authorities, Shevchenko was arrested along
with other members on April 5, 1847.
Although he probably was not an official member of
the Brotherhood, during the search his poem "The
Dream" ("Son") was found. This poem attacked
Slavophilism, personally attacked Emperor Nicholas I
and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, and therefore was
considered extremely inflammatory, and of all the
members of the dismantled society Shevchenko was
punished most severely.
The Tsar was about to pardon Shevchenko, since
literature was not as bad as violent opposition, which
he also faced (Decembrist uprising etc.).
Then, however, Tsar Nicholas read Shevchenko's
poem, "The Dream". Vissarion Belinsky wrote in his
memoirs that, Nicholas I, knowing Ukrainian very
well, laughed and chuckled whilst reading the section
about himself, but his mood quickly turned to bitter
hatred when he read about his wife.
Shevchenko had mocked
her frumpy appearance
and facial tics, which she
had developed whilst
fearing the Decembrist
Uprising and its plans to
kill her family. After
reading this section the
Tsar indignantly stated "I
suppose he had reasons
not to be on terms with
me, but what has she
done to deserve this?"
Shevchenko was imprisoned in Saint Petersburg. He
was exiled as a private with the Russian military
Orenburg garrison at Orsk, near the Ural Mountains.
Tsar Nicholas I, confirming his sentence, added to
it, "Under the strictest surveillance, without the right
to write or paint."
With the exception of some short periods during his
exile, the enforcement of the Tsar's ban on his creative
work was lax. The poet produced several drawings and
sketches as well as writings while serving and traveling
on assignment (in the capacity of a military sketch
painter, the idea put forward by fellow serviceman
Bronisław Zaleski) in the Ural regions and areas on
But it was not until 1857 that Shevchenko finally
returned from exile after receiving a pardon, though he
was not permitted to return to St. Petersburg but was
ordered to Nizhniy Novgorod. In May
1859, Shevchenko got permission to return to his
native Ukraine. He intended to buy a plot of land not
far from the village of Pekariv. In July, he was arrested
on a charge of blasphemy, but was released and
ordered to return to St. Petersburg.
Taras Shevchenko spent the last years of his life
working on new poetry, paintings, and engravings, as
well as editing his older works. But after his difficult
years in exile his final illness proved too much.
Shevchenko died in Saint Petersburg on March
10, 1861, the day after his 47th birthday.
He was first buried at the Smolensk Cemetery in Saint
Petersburg. However, fulfilling Shevchenko's
wish, expressed in his poem "Testament"
("Zapovit"), to be buried in Ukraine, his friends
arranged to transfer his remains by train to Moscow
and then by horse-drawn wagon to his native land.
Shevchenko's remains where buried on May 8 on
Chernecha Hill (Monk's Hill; now Taras Hill) by the
Dnieper River near Kaniv.
A tall mound was
erected over his
grave, now a memorial
part of the Kaniv
Dogged by terrible
misfortune in love and
life, the poet died seven
days before the
Emancipation of Serfs
was announced. His
works and life are
revered by Ukrainians
and his impact on
Ukrainian literature is
Taras Shevchenko has a unique place in Ukrainian
cultural history and in world literature. His writings
formed the foundation for the modern Ukrainian
literature to a degree that he is also considered the
founder of the modern written Ukrainian language
(although Ivan Kotlyarevsky pioneered the literary
work in what was close to the modern Ukrainian in
the end of the 18th century.) Shevchenko's poetry
contributed greatly to the growth of Ukrainian
national consciousness, and his influence on various
facets of Ukrainian intellectual, literary, and
national life is still felt to this day. Influenced by
Romanticism, Shevchenko managed to find his own
manner of poetic expression that encompassed
themes and ideas germane to Ukraine and his
personal vision of its past and future.
In view of his literary importance, the impact of his
artistic work is often missed, although his
contemporaries valued his artistic work no less, or
perhaps even more, than his literary work. A great
number of his pictures, drawings and etchings
preserved to this day testify to his unique artistic
talent. He also experimented with photography and it
is little known that Shevchenko may be considered to
have pioneered the art of etching in the Russian
Empire (in 1860 he was awarded the title of
Academician in the Imperial Academy of Arts
specifically for his achievements in etching.)
His influence on Ukrainian culture has been so
immense, that even during Soviet times, the official
position was to downplay strong Ukrainian nationalism
expressed in his poetry, suppressing any mention of it, and
to put an emphasis on the social and anti-Tsarist aspects of
his legacy, the Class struggle within the Russian Empire.
Shevchenko, who himself was born a serf and suffered
tremendously for his political views in opposition to the
established order of the Empire, was presented in the
Soviet times as an internationalist who stood up in general
for the plight of the poor classes exploited by the
reactionary political regime rather than the vocal
proponent of the Ukrainian national idea.
This view is significantly revised in modern independent
Ukraine, where he is now viewed as almost an iconic figure
with unmatched significance for the Ukrainian nation, a
view that has been mostly shared all along by the
Ukrainian diaspora that has always revered Shevchenko.
There are many monuments to Shevchenko
throughout Ukraine, most notably at his memorial in
Kaniv and in the center of Kyiv, just across from the
Kyiv University that bears his name. The Kyiv Metro
station, Tarasa Shevchenka, is also dedicated to
Shevchenko. Among other notable monuments to the
poet located throughout Ukraine are the ones in
Kharkiv (in front of the Shevchenko Park.
Kharkiv|Shevchenko Park), Lviv, Luhansk and many
Outside of Ukraine, monuments to Shevchenko have
been put up in several locations of the former USSR
associated with his legacy, both in the Soviet and the
post-Soviet times. The modern monument in Saint
Petersburg was erected on December 22, 2000, but the
first monument (pictured) was built in the city in 1918
on the order of Lenin shortly after the Great Russian
There is also a monument located next to the
Shevchenko museum at the square that bears the
poet's name in Orsk, Russia (the location of the
military garrison where the poet served) where there
are also a street, a library and the Orsk Pedagogical
Institute|Pedagogical Institute named to the poet.
There are Shevchenko monuments and museums in
the cities of Kazakhstan where he was later transferred
by the military: Aqtau (the city was named
Shevchenko between 1964 and 1992) and nearby Fort
Shevchenko (renamed from Fort Alexandrovsky in
1939), and a street after him in Vilnius, where he also
lived. In upstate New York there is a small country
road name after Schevchanko as well. There is no
visible monument in the vicinity, just a small road.
After Ukraine gained its independence in the wake of
the 1991 Soviet Collapse, some Ukrainian cities
replaced their statues of Lenin with statues of Taras
Shevchenko and in some locations that lacked streets
named to him, local authorities renamed the streets or
squares to Shevchenko. There is also a bilingual Taras
Sevchenko high school in Sighetu
Outside of Ukraine and the former USSR, monuments
to Shevchenko have been put up in many
countries, usually under the initiative of local
Ukrainian diasporas. There are several memorial
societies and monuments to him throughout Canada
and the United States, most notably the Leo Mol
monument in Washington, D.C., near Dupont Circle.
The granite monument near Dupont Circle was carved
by Vincent Illuzzi of Barre, Vermont. There is also a
monument in Soyuzivka in New York State, Tipperary
Hill in Syracuse, New York, a park is named after him
in Elmira Heights, N.Y. and a street is named after him
in New York City's East Village.
The town of Vita in
Manitoba, Canada was
Shevchenko in his honor.
There is a Shevchenko
Square in Paris located in
the heart of the central
district. The Leo Mol
sculpture garden in
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ca
nada, contains many
images of Taras
A two-tonne bronze statue of Shevchenko, located in a
memorial park outside of Oakville, Ontario was
discovered stolen in December 2006. It was taken for
scrap metal; the head was recovered in a damaged
state, but the statue was not repairable. The head is on
exhibit at the Taras Shevchenko Museum & Memorial
Park Foundation in Toronto.
In 2001, the Ukrainian society "Prosvita" raised the
initiative of building a Church near the Chernecha
Mount in Kaniv, where Taras Shevchenko is buried.
The initiative got a rather supportive response in the
society. Since then many charity events have been held
all over the country to gather donations for the above
purpose. A marathon under the slogan "Let’s Build a
Church for the Kobzar" by the First National Radio
Channel of Ukraine collected 39,000 hryvnias (about
US $7,500) in October 2003.
A Taras Shevchenko Museum & Memorial Park
Foundation is located in Toronto, Canada. A video
tour of the museum was created in March 2010.
Among other exhibits, the video tour includes footage
of Shevchenko's death mask.
There is a statue of Taras Shevchenko at Ukraine
Square in Curitiba, Brazil.
The British band New Order released a live video on
Factory Records entitled Taras Shevchenko, recorded
in 1981 at the Ukrainian National Home in the East
Village of New York City; the initial scenes feature a
digitised version of the Shevchenko self-portrait. The
video artwork was done by graphic designer Peter
Saville. This was later included on their video New
Order 3 16.
On 26 June 2011 a bronze and granite statue of Taras
Shevchenko, created by Leo Mol, was unveiled in
Ottawa, Canada. (see Taras Shevchenko Monument