Taras Shevchenko: Ukrainian poet and painter (1814 - 1861) | Biography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Taras Shevchenko
Ukrainian poet and painter

Taras Shevchenko

Taras Shevchenko
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Ukrainian poet and painter
A.K.A. Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko, Taras. Shevchenko, Taras Ševčenko, Tar...
Was Writer Painter Poet Anthropologist Artist Playwright
From Russia
Field Arts Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 25 February 1814, Moryntsi
Death 10 March 1861, Saint Petersburg (aged 47 years)
Star sign Pisces
Mother: Kateryna Y. Boiko
Father: Grygorij I. Shevchenko
Taras Shevchenko
The details (from wikipedia)


Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (March 9 [O.S. February 25] 1814 – March 10 [O.S. February 26] 1861) was a dissident activist in Imperial Russia, and a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, public and political figure, as well as folklorist and ethnographer. 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.
He was a member of the Sts Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood and an academician of the Imperial Academy of Arts. In 1847 Shevchenko was convicted for writing in the Ukrainian language, promoting independence of Ukraine and ridiculing members of the Russian Imperial House.


Parent's hut in Kyrylivka (now village of Shevchenkove, Zvenigorodsky region, Ukraine). Taras Shevchenko, pencil, 09/1843

Childhood and youth

Taras Shevchenko was born on March 9 [O.S. February 25] 1814[Note b] in the village of Moryntsi, Zvenigorodka county, Kiev Governorate in the Russian Empire (now in Zvenyhorodka Raion, Ukraine). After his sister Kateryna and brother Mykyta, he was the third child of serf peasants Hryhoriy Ivanovych Shevchenko (1782? – 1825) and Kateryna Yakymivna Shevchenko (Boiko) (1782? – August 6, 1823) who belonged to a landlord called Vasiliy Engelgardt. According to family legends, Taras's forefathers were Cossacks who served in the Zaporizhian Host and took part in liberation wars and uprisings of Ukraine in the 17th and 18th centuries. Those uprisings were brutally suppressed and normal social life was disrupted for many years in Cherkasy, Poltava, Kyiv, Bratslav, and Chernihiv. Most of the local population was enslaved and impoverished.

In 1816 the Shevchenko family moved back to the village of Kyrylivka in Zvenigorodka county (today Shevchenkove) from where Hryhoriy Ivanovych hailed. Taras spent his childhood years in that village. On May 24 [O.S. May 12] 1816, Taras' sister Yaryna was born, and on February 7 [O.S. January 26] 1819 - Maria. Once young Taras went looking after "the iron pillars that hold up the sky" and got lost. Chumaks who met the boy took him with him to Kerelivka.[Note c] On March 20 [O.S. March 8] 1821 Taras' brother Yosyp was born.

In the fall of 1822 Taras started to take some grammar classes at a local precentor (dyak) Sovhyr. At that time Shevchenko became familiar with Hryhoriy Skovoroda's works. During 1822-1828 Shevchenko painted horses and soldiers.

On February 10 [O.S. January 29] 1823 his older sister and nanny Kateryna married Anton Krasytsky, a peasant from Zelena Dibrova. On September 1 [O.S. August 20] 1823 Taras' hard working and unhappy mother died. A month later on October 19 [O.S. October 7] 1823 his father married a widow Oksana Tereshchenko, a native of Moryntsi village, who already had three children of her own.[Note d] She cruelly treated her foster children and, in particular, little Taras.[Note e]

On July 4 [O.S. June 22] 1824 Taras's sister Maria from the second marriage of Hryhoriy Ivanovych was born. In 1824 Taras, along with his father, became a traveling merchant (chumak) and traveled to Zvenyhorodka, Uman, Yelizavetgrad (today Kropyvnytskyi). At the age of eleven Taras became an orphan when, on April 2 [O.S. March 21] 1825, his father died a serf in corvée. Soon his stepmother along with her children returned to Moryntsi.

Taras went to work for precentor (dyak) Bohorsky who had just arrived from Kyiv in 1824. As an apprentice, Taras carried water, heated up a school, served the precentor, read psalms over the dead and continued to study. At that time Shevchenko became familiar with some works of Ukrainian literature. Soon tired of Bohorsky's enduring 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 (villages Stebliv and Tarasivka). In 1827 Shevchenko herded community sheep near his village. He then met Oksana Kovalenko, a childhood friend, whom Shevchenko mentions in his works on multiple occasions. He dedicated to her the introduction to his poem "Mariana, the Nun".

As a hireling for the Kyrylivka priest Hryhoriy Koshytsia, Taras was visiting Bohuslav where he drove the priest's son to school, while apples and plums - to the market. At the same time he was driving to markets in the towns of Burta and Shpola. In 1828 Shevchenko was hired as a serving boy to a lord's court in Vilshana where he went for permission to study with a local artist. When Taras turned 14, Vasiliy Engelgardt died and village Kyrylivka became a property of his son, Pavel Engelgardt. Shevchenko was turned into a court servant of the new landlord at the Vilshana estates. On December 18 [O.S. December 6] 1829 Pavel Engelgardt caught Shevchenko at night painting a portrait of Cossack Matvei Platov, a hero of the Patriotic War of 1812. He boxed the ears of the boy and ordered him whipped in the stables with rods. During 1829-1833 Taras copied paintings of Suzdal masters.

For almost two and a half years, from fall of 1828 to start of 1831, Shevchenko stayed with his master in Vilno (Vilnius). Details of the travel are not well known. Perhaps, there he attended lectures by painting professor Jan Rustem at the University of Vilnius. In the same city Shevchenko could also have witnessed the November Uprising of 1830. From those times survived Shevchenko's painting "Bust of a Woman" which indicates almost professional handling of the pencil.

After moving from Vilno to Saint Petersburg in 1831, Engelgardt took Shevchenko along with him. To have a benefit from works of art (among the nobility there was a fashion to have their own "chamber artists"), he sent him to study for four years to painter Vasiliy Shiriayev. From that point and until 1838 Shevchenko lived in the Krestovsky building (today Zagorodnyi prospekt, 8) where Shiriayev rented an apartment. In his free time at night, Shevchenko visited the Summer Garden where he was portrayed statues. In Saint Petersburg he also started writing his poems.

In 1833 Shevchenko painted a portrait of his landowner Pavel Engelgardt (National museum of Taras Shechenko).

In his novel "Artist" Shechenko tells that during the pre-academical period he painted such works as "Apollo Belvedere", "Fraklete", "Heraclitus", "Architectural barelief", "Mask of Fortune". He participated in painting of the Bolshoi Theatre as artist apprentice. He created a composition "Alexander of Macedon shows trust towards his doctor Philip". The drawing was created for a contest of the Imperial Academy of Arts, announced in 1830.


Self-portrait, 1840

In Saint Petersburg Shevchenko met Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko, who introduced him to other compatriots such as Yevhen Hrebinka and Vasyl Hryhorovych, and to Russian painter Alexey Venetsianov. Through these men Shevchenko also met famous painter and professor Karl Briullov, who donated his portrait of Russian poet Vasily Zhukovsky as a lottery prize. Its proceeds were used to buy Shevchenko's freedom on May 5, 1838.

First successes

In the same year Shevchenko was accepted as a student into the Academy of Arts in the workshop of Karl Briullov. 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 landscape painting. In 1840 he again received the Silver Medal, this time for his first oil painting, The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog.

Kobzar and Haidamaky, 1844

Shevchenko began writing poetry while still a serf, and in 1840 his first collection of poetry, Kobzar, was published. According to Ivan Franko, a renowned Ukrainian poet in the generation after Shevchenko, "[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, 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 siblings, still enserfed, and other relatives. He met with prominent Ukrainian writers and intellectuals 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 Ukraine.

Dreams, 1840, Poltava (poem) illustration 
Gypsy Fortune Teller, 1841. Oil on canvas. Winner of the 1841 Silver Medal at the Imperial Academy of Arts. 
Self-portrait as a soldier, 1847 
Kateryna (1842, Oil, Taras Shevchenko National Museum) 
Reshetelivka, 1845 
Art model, 1842 
Dalismen-mule-village, 1851 


On March 22, 1845, the Council of the Academy of Arts granted Shevchenko the title of an non-classed artist. He again travelled to Ukraine where he met with historian Nikolay Kostomarov and other members of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a clandestine society also known as Ukrainian-Slavic society and dedicated to the political liberalization of the Empire and its transformation into a federation-like polity of Slavic nations. Upon the society's suppression by the authorities, Shevchenko's poem "The Dream" (Son), that was confiscated from the society's members, became one of the major issues of the scandal.

Shevchenko by Ivan Kramskoi upon his return from exile, 1871

Shevchenko was arrested along with other members of the society on April 5, 1847. 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 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?" In the official report of count Orlov Shevchenko was accused of using Little-Russian language (archaic Russian name for Ukrainian language) of outrageous content instead of being grateful to be redeemed out of serfdom. In the report Orlov claims that Shevchenko was expressing a cry over alleged enslavement and disaster of Ukraine, glorified the Hetman Administration (Cossack Hetmanate) and Cossack liberties and "with incredible audacity poured slander and bile on persons of Imperial House".

While under investigation, Shevchenko was imprisoned in Saint Petersburg in casemates of the 3rd Department of Imperial Chancellery on Panteleimonovskaya Street (today ulitsa Pestelia, 9). After being convicted, he was exiled as a private to the Russian military garrison in Orenburg 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."

He was subsequently sent on a forced march from Saint Petersburg to Orenburg where, at the suggestion of fellow serviceman Bronisław Zaleski, General Perovsky assigned him to Karl Ernst von Baer, a Baltic-German naturalist. Von Baer was a rising star in the Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg and was becoming increasingly influential in the exploration of the new Russian territories, specializing in lakes and fisheries. He had been selected to undertake the first scientific expedition of the Aral Sea on the ship "Konstantin", under the command of Lieutenant Butakov. Although officially a common sailor, Shevchenko was tasked with sketching the various landscapes around the coast of the Aral Sea, including the local Qazaq nomads, and was effectively treated as an equal by the other members of the expedition. After a voyage of over eighteen months (1848–49) he returned with his album of drawings and paintings to General Perovsky at Orenburg, who was impressed with his work and sent a positive report to Saint Petersburg hoping to obtain some amelioration in Shevchenko’s punishment. However Perovsky was reprimanded and Shevchenko’s punishment was increased to imprisonment. He was sent to one of the worst penal settlements, the remote fortress of Novopetrovsk in the mouth of the Syr Darya, where he spent six terrible years of mental and physical torment.

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 were 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 Museum-Preserve.

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 throughout the world and his impact on Ukrainian literature is immense.


Grave of Taras Shevchenko, Taras Hill near Kaniv, historical postcard. The cross was dismantled by the Soviets in the 1920s

Shevchenko never married. He had six siblings and at least three step-siblings, of whom only Stepan Tereshchenko (1820?–unknown) is known. Some sources connect him to the Tereshchenko family of Ukrainian industrialists.

  1. Kateryna Hryhorivna Krasytska (Shevchenko) (1806–1850) married Anton Hryhorovych Krasytsky (1794–1848)
    1. Yakym Krasytsky
    2. Maksym Krasytsky (unknown–1910)
    3. Stepan Krasytsky
    4. Fedora Krasytska (1824?–unknown), known painter
  2. Mykyta Hryhorovych Shevchenko (1811–1870?)
    1. Iryna Kovtun (Shevchenko)
    2. Prokop Shevchenko
    3. Petro Shevchenko (1847–1944?)
  3. Maria Hryhorivna Shevchenko (1814?–unknown) (His twin sister)
  4. Yaryna Hryhorivna Boiko (Shevchenko) (1816–1865) married Fedir Kondratievych Boiko (1811–1850)
    1. Maryna Boiko
    2. Ustyna Boiko (1836–unknown)
    3. Illarion Boiko (1840–unknown)
    4. Lohvyn Boiko (1842–unknown)
    5. Ivan Boiko (1845–unknown)
    6. Lavrentiy Boiko (1847–unknown)
  5. Maria Hryhorivna Shevchenko (1819–1846)
  6. Yosyp Hryhorovych Shevchenko (1821–1878) married Matrona Hryhorivna Shevchenko (1820?–unknown), far relative
    1. Andriy Shevchenko
    2. Ivan Shevchenko
    3. Trokhym Shevchenko (September 20, 1843–unknown)

Heritage and legacy


Taras Shevchenko on the current 100 hryvnia banknote

Taras Shevchenko's 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.

He inspired some of the protestors during the Euromaidan.

Contribution to Russian literature

Some of Shevchenko's prose (a novel, diary, plays "Nazar Stodolya" and "Nikita Gayday", many letters), as well as some of his poems were written in Russian, thus, some researchers consider Shevchenko as a notable Russian writer.

Monuments and memorials

Taras Shevchenko Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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 others.

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 Marmatiei, Romania.

Taras Shevchenko statue in Schpola, Ukraine

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 monument in Washington, D.C., near Dupont Circle. The granite monument 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. A section of Connecticut Route 9 that goes through New Britain is also named after Shevchenko. A monument to Shevchenko was put up in Zagreb, Croatia on May 21, 2015.

Example of poetry: "Testament" (Zapovit)

Shevchenko's "Testament", (Zapovit, 1845), has been translated into more than 60 languages and set to music in the 1870s by H. Hladky. The poem enjoys a status second only to Ukraine’s national anthem.


Як умру, то поховайте
Мене на могилі,
Серед степу широкого,
На Вкраїні милій,
Щоб лани широкополі,
І Дніпро, і кручі
Було видно, було чути,
Як реве ревучий.

Як понесе з України
У синєє море
Кров ворожу... отойді я
І лани, і гори —
Все покину і полину
До самого Бога
Молитися... а до того
Я не знаю Бога.

Поховайте та вставайте,
Кайдани порвіте
І вражою злою кров'ю
Волю окропіте.
І мене в сiм'ї великій,
В сiм'ї вольній, новій,
Не забудьте пом'янути
Незлим тихим словом.


When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes ... then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields --
I'll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray .... But until that day
I know nothing of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

—Taras Shevchenko,
25 December 1845, Pereiaslav
—Translated by John Weir, Toronto, 1961


835 works survived into modern times in original form and partly in prints engraved on metal and wood by Russian and other foreign engravers, while some works survived as copies done by painters while Shevchenko still lived. There is data on over 270 more works which were lost and have not been found yet. Painted and engraved works at the time of completion are dated 1830-1861 and are territorially related to Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. The genres are - portraits, compositions on mythological, historical and household themes, architectural landscapes and scenery. The techniques used for that were oil painting on canvas, watercolor, sepia, inking, lead pencil, as well as etching on separate sheets of white, colored and tinted paper of different sizes and in five albums. A significant part of Shevchenko's artistic heritage consists of completed paintings, however there are also sketches, etudes and outlines which are no less valuable for understanding Shevchenko's methods and artistic path. Of all Shevchenko's paintings only a small part has any authorial signatures or inscriptions and even smaller part has dates.


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