His grandfather I.
Shevchenko, who was a witness of the Haidamak movement, had a significant
influence on Taras. Taras's
father was literate, and he sent his son to be educated as an apprentice to a
deacon. In 1823, Taras's mother died, and
his father married for a second time. In 1825, his father also died. For some
time little Taras, now an orphan, served as a houseboy and was in training as
a servant. A talent for drawing showed itself in the boy quite early. When he
was 14 years old, he became a domestic servant to P. Engelhardt.
In the spring of 1829,
Taras travelled with P. Engelhardt to Vilnius,
There he studied painting under an experienced craftsman. The Polish
rebellion for national liberation from Russia
began in November, 1830, and Engelhardt left for the Russian capital, St. Petersburg.
Shevchenko stayed with the lord's servants in Vilnius and was witness to the revolutionary
events. Shevchenko went to St.
Petersburg at the beginning of 1831. In 1832, the lord
"contracted" him to the master painter V. Shyryayev, with whom the
lad experienced a hard school of professional training.
Noted writers and
artists bought Shevchenko out of serfdom. The 2,500 rubles required were
raised through a lottery in which the prize was a portrait of the poet,
Zhukovsky, painted by Karl Bryullov. The release from serfdom was signed on
April 22, 1838. A
committee of the Association for the Encouragement of Artists had examined
drawings by Shevchenko and approved them. In 1838, Shevchenko was accepted
into the Academy
of Arts as an
external student, practicing in the workshop of K. Bryullov.
In January, 1839,
Shevchenko was accepted as a resident student at the Association for the
Encouragement of Artists, and at the annual examinations at the Academy of Arts, Shevchenko was given the
Silver Medal for a landscape. In 1840 he was again given the Silver Medal,
this time for his first oil painting, The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog.
In the library of Yevhen
Hrebinka, he became familiar with anthologies of Ukrainian folklore and the
works of I. Kotlyarevsky, H. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, and the romantic poets, as
well as many Russian, East European and world writers.
Shevchenko began to write
poetry even before he was freed from serfdom. In 1840, the world first saw
the Kobzar, Shevchenko's first collection of poetry. Later Ivan Franko
wrote that this book, "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 appeared
as a separate volume. In September of that same year, Shevchenko got his
third Silver Medal -- for his picture The Gypsy Fortune Teller. A
significant work is the painting Kateryna, based on his poem.
Shevchenko also tried his
hand at writing plays. In 1842,
a fragment of the tragedy Nykyta Hayday appeared, and
in 1843 he completed the drama Nazar Stodolya.
In this period, the full
genius of Shevchenko was apparent, and the main characteristic of his poetry
- a deep national sense - was evident. All his life, the poet was devoted to
his nation. "Body and soul I am the son and brother of our unfortunate
nation," he wrote.
Opposition to the social
and national oppression of the Ukrainian people grew in Shevchenko. Tsarist
Russian censorship deleted many lines from his works, and created problems
for the printing of the writer's poetry. None of the critics of the Kobzar,
however, was able to deny the great talent of Shevchenko.
In 1843, the poet left St. Petersburg, and at the end of May he was in Ukraine. In Kiev, he met M.
Maksymovich, P. Kulish and others, and did many paintings.
That summer, the poet
visited the sites of the former Zaporozhian Cossack Sich, and in September he
went to Kyrylivka where, after a fourteen-year separation, he saw his
brothers and sisters. In Ukraine Shevchenko did many pencil studies for a
projected book of engravings to be called Picturesque Ukraine. At the end of
February Shevchenko returned to St.
In Ukraine, the
poet had seen the heavy social and national yoke borne by the working people
and the inhuman conditions of life of the peasants. This evoked new themes in
It was useless to think
of publishing political poetry in conditions of Russian tsarist censorship.
The works of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz had a great influence on
Shevchenko, especially in the writing of political satire. One of the
highlights of the political poetry of Shevchenko is the satirical poem Son
In Lihvin, 1859
On March 22, 1845, the
Council of the Academy
of Arts decided to
grant Shevchenko the title of artist. On that same day, he approached the
leadership of the Academy with a request for a "pass" for a trip
In Kiev, the poet met again with M.
Maksymovich, and was commissioned to paint historical sites. Shevchenko
visited Kyrylivka, and in the fall of 1845, on an appointment by the
Archeological Commission, he left to paint the historical and archeological
sites of Poltava.
In Myrhorod, the poet wrote the mystery play The Great Vault. Toward the
end of October, Shevchenko went to Pereyaslav, where he lived until early
In the spring of 1846,
the poet lived for some time in Kiev,
where he met the members of the Kyrylo-Methodius Society. The views of the
poet had a great influence on the program of this secret society and on the
philosophical outlook of many of his contemporaries.
In 1847, arrests began of
the members of the Kyrylo-Methodius Society and Shevchenko was arrested on
April 5, on a ferry crossing the Dnipro
River near Kiev. The next day, the poet was sent to St. Petersburg. He arrived
there on April 17, 1847, and was imprisoned. Here he wrote the cycle of poems
In the Dungeon. Of all the members of the association who came under
investigation, Shevchenko was punished most severely: he was exiled as a
private with the Military Detachment at Orenburg.
Russian Tsar Nicholas I, in confirming the sentence, wrote, "Under the
strictest surveillance, with a ban on writing and painting."
On June 8, 1847,
Shevchenko was established at distant Orenburg,
and later he was sent to the fort at even more distant Orsk. From the very first days, Shevchenko
violated the tsar's order. He transcribed the prison cycle into a small
secret book he kept in his boot, and he wrote new poems into the book. In
1848, Shevchenko was included as an artist in the Aral Sea Survey Expedition.
In 1850, Shevchenko was arrested for violating the tsar's order. Warned by
his friends, the poet was able to give them his notebooks and to destroy some
letters. The poet was taken to Orsk,
where he was questioned. Then he was sent to a remote fort in Novopetrovsk.
Once again, strict discipline was imposed, and the poet was subjected to more
rigorous surveillance. It was not until 1857 that Shevchenko finally returned
from exile, thanks to the efforts of friends.
While awaiting permission
to return, Shevchenko began a diary, an important documentation of his views.
On August 2, 1857, having received permission to travel to St. Petersburg, Shevchenko left the fort at
Novopetrovsk. In Nizhniy Novgorod, he learned that he was forbidden to go to Moscow or St. Petersburg,
on pain of being returned to Orenburg.
A kind doctor attested
to Shevchenko's illness, and the poet spent the entire winter in Nizhniy
Novgorod. The winter of 1857-58 was very productive for Shevchenko. During
that time he painted many portraits and other paintings. He also edited and
transcribed into the Bilsha Knyzhka (The Larger Book) his poems from the
period of exile, and wrote new poetic works. After receiving permission to
live in the capital, he went to St.
Petersburg. After his exile, Shevchenko devoted
his greatest attention as an artist to engraving, and in this field he
became a true innovator.
In May, 1859,
Shevchenko got permission to go to Ukraine. He intended to buy a
plot of land not far from the village
of Pekariv, to build a house
there, and to settle in Ukraine.
In July he was arrested on a charge of blasphemy, but was released and
ordered to go to St. Petersburg
without fail. The poet arrived there on September 7, 1859. Nevertheless, to
the end of his life, the poet hoped to settle in Ukraine.
In spite of physical
weakness as a result of his exile, Shevchenko's poetical strength was
inexhaustible, and the last period of his work is the highest stage of his
development. In a series of works, the poet embodied the dream of the people
for a free and happy life. Shevchenko understood that the peasants would gain
their freedom neither through the kindness of the tsar nor through reforms,
but through struggle. He created a gallery of images - Champions of Sacred
Freedom - of fighters against oppression and tyrarnny. On September 2, 1860,
the Council of the Academy
of Arts granted Shevchenko
the title, Academician of Engraving.
The poet began to feel
increasingly ill, and complained in letters about the state of his health.
Taras Shevchenko died in his studio apartment St. Petersburg at 5:30 a.m. on March 10,
1861. At the Academy
of Arts, over the
coffin of Shevchenko, speeches were delivered in Ukrainian, Russian and
Polish. The poet was first buried at the Smolensk
Cemetery in St. Petersburg. Then Shevchenko's friends
immediately undertook to fulfil the poet's Zapovit (Testament), and bury him
The coffin with the body of Shevchenko was taken by train to Moscow,
and then by horse-drawn wagon to Ukraine. Shevchenko's remains
on the evening of May 6, and the next day they were transferred to the
steamship Kremenchuh. On May 8 the steamship reached Kaniv, and Taras was
buried on Chernecha Hill (now Taras Hill) by the Dnipro River.
A tall mound was erected over his grave, and it has become a sacred site for
the Ukrainian people.