The inevitable value of Shevchenko's art heritage is in that it
expressed the interests of the Ukrainian people living in his own
era. The ideas and themes of his works as an artist expressed the
moods of the oppressed masses not only in Ukraine; they also expressed
the aspirations and hopes of working people of different nationalities.
Shevchenko, simultaneously with Fedotov, affirmed critical realism
as a new, progressive trend in Russian fine arts of that time. During
his first years as a pupil of the "indoor painter", Vasiliy
Shiryayev, and at the same time attending drawing classes at the
"Association of Young Artists", the serf young, Shevchenko,
turned to themes from the history of his homeland. He strived to
convey in his compositions the sacred aspirations and deeds of the
Ukrainian people, to truthfully portray their everyday life and
reproduce the images of their heroical past.
In his letter to the editor of the magazine, The People's Reader,
Shevchenko wrote, "The history of my life is a part of the
history of my homeland". These words are the key to understanding
the creative work of Shevchenko the artist and poet.
The themes of Shevchenko works, depicting life in Ukraine at that
time, are very diverse, indeed. Among them we can single out the
watercolor composition of 1841, "Gypsy Fortune-Teller",
which was awarded a silver medal by the Council of the Academy of
Arts. These, in turn, led to the still greater canvas, "Kateryna",
in which the acute social-exposing theme sounded out in full voice.
The poem of the same name served as a basis for this paining. The
theme of "Kateryna" is an actual one for that period.
In it Shevchenko exposed the tragic fate of a Ukrainian serf girl,
who was seduced and than abandoned and disgraced by a Russian officer.
This painting is an important page in the history of Ukrainian art,
a new word in the formation of the folk element and critical realism
from the Subotiv Road, 1845
In the spring of 1843, after 14 years of separation from his homeland,
Shevchenko visited his native Ukraine. In Ukraine under the influence
of everything seen and experienced, the idea of a periodical art
edition entitled Picturesque Ukraine came to Shevchenko.
And so, having arrived in St. Petersburg, he enthusiastically commenced
this work. Shevchenko divided up the edition into three parts: Ukrainian
landscapes, showing the beauty of the country or expressing its
historical meaning, were included into the first part; the second
part included scenes from the everyday life of that period; the
third consisted of etchings, depicting the historical past of the
Shevchenko was the first among Ukrainian artists to set before
himself a task of great patriotic significance - that of acquainting
the progressive people with the everyday life of the Ukrainian people,
their past, as well as with the enchanting beauty of Ukrainian nature.
However, he was unable to completely accomplish this, for soon
afterwards, he was arrested and sentenced to exile. In 1844 the
first and only edition of "Picturesque Ukraine",
consisting of six etchings, came out in print. The artist depicted
many themes from the life of the oppressed and suffering people.
He painted what was most dear to his heart, "The Paternal
Hut of T. H. Shevchenko in the Village of Kyrilivka"...
It was here that the little orphan, Taras, spent his gloomy and
joyless childhood. Here his heart was first stung by human injustice,
founded on the rule of the rich over poor. The painting "A
peasant family" is warmed by the poet's great love for
the people and you can almost sense the compassion and lyrical peacefulness
radiating from it.
The Paternal Hut
in the Village of Kyrilivka
A peasant family,
Council of Elders,
Among the paintings of this period is a great number of portraits,
including those of Mayevska, Olexandre Lukyanovich, Illya Lizogub,
Gorlenko, Elizabeth Keyuatova and others. In these portraits, especially
in those of the women, you can easily trace the influence if Bryullov.
He was delicate not only in the manner of painting, but also in
the way he revealed the images, when traditional idealization united
with the desire to convey the personality of a person. While still
a student at the Academy of Arts, Shevchenko created a magnificent
watercolor painting "Maria"on the theme of Pushkin's
poem "Poltava". And already in the spring of 1841
Shevchenko's name could be found alongside such names as Karl and
Olexandre Bryullov, Fedor Tolstoy, Andrei Sapozhnikov, and other
Portrait of Mayevska,
Portrait of Keykuatova,
Cathedral on the
Ascension in Pereyaslav, 1845
In the spring of 1845 Shevchenko completed his studies at the Academy
of Arts and returned to Ukraine. But he did not stay in Ukraine for
| On April 5, 1847 he was arrested and without a trial he was
exiled as a rank-and-file soldier to the far-off Caspian steppes.
During his first year in exile Shevchenko portrayed himself
in a uniform. The famous Shevchenko's words "I am punished,
I suffer... but I do not repent!..." belong to this
period. In his "prison without doors", as he himself
called it, Shevchenko in the period of ten years created the
greater part of his wonderful works. They raised Shevchenko
to a still higher level, for in them his mastery became even
more exact and thorough and the meaning behind them - even more
acute and profound.
The works of the exile period can be divided up into three groups:
portraits, landscapes and compositions.
Of the portraits the most interesting are Shevchenko's self-portraits.
Taken as a whole, they comprise one of the most valuable sources
of learning about the artist's life.
Having been sent as a soldier-guard on the Butakov expedition,
which during 1848-1849 explored the shores of the Aral Sea, Shevchenko
served as the expedition's artist. During the Aral expedition and
later too, during another expedition into the Kara-Tau Hills, that
discovered several coal-fields in Kazakhstan, and still later, during
his stay at the Novopetrovsky Fortress Shevchenko created a great
number of watercolor landscape paintings.
Novopetrovsky Fortress Viewed from
the Sea, 1857
|These landscape paintings attract us by their
maturity of realistic mastery. Here, we see no conventionality
which was so typical of the academic school of landscape painting.
In the well-known watercolor painting, "Novopetrovsky
Fortress Viewed from the Sea", Shevchenko portrayed
the fort where he spent seven long hard years.
The genre themes in the creative work of Shevchenko, during the
exile period are also of great importance. Shevchenko viewed the
everyday life of the people, whom Tsarist autocracy called foreigners,
with the eyes of a friend. The artist saw, which he had known and
experienced from childhood in Ukraine - social and national oppression.
In the sepia "Kazakh Beggar Children" Shevchenko
portrayed himself in the background, looking on with an expression
of sadness and sympathy. This self-portrait, combined with
a genre scene, gave the artist an opportunity to show his
own attitude to poor orphan children, as well as to all the
Kazakh people, doomed by the tsar to suffer hunger and deprivation.
In the sepia "Kazakh Katia" Shevchenko portrayed
a girl holding a candle in front of a tombstone. In the brightly
candle-litface of the girl the artist lovingly and with deep
sympathy conveyed her spiritual purity.
During the last years of exile, Shevchenko created one of his
main compositions - a series of works entitled "The Parable
of a Prodigal Son". The works included in this series impress
us with their deep thought, critical acuteness, with which the artist
condemned the evils of surrounding reality.
According to Shevchenko, "The Parable of a Prodigal Son"
was supposed to be a satire on the savage habits and traditions
of the Russian merchants, but it soon grew into a wrathful exposure
of the whole system of autocratic serfdom.
Included in the series is "Punishment in the Stocks".
We see the hero of the "Parable" with a wooden
block in his mouth portrayed on the background of the Novopetrovsky
barracks. This served to signify the people, who had no freedom
of speech. In the right-hand corner of the painting we see Shevchenko's
profile, as if conveying that he himself was a witness of these
Running the Gauntlet,
Last Stock Lost,
the Stocks, 1857
In Prison, 1857
Prior to Shevchenko, none of the artists of Ukraine or Russia ever
rose to such a height of social protest even in the following years.
In his diary and novels, there are quite a number of important
expressions of Shevchenko about art, in which he comes forth as
a true realist.
Sharply criticizing idealism, Shevchenko utilized his native landscape
and life itself as the basis of his artistic work. At that time
he resolutely opposed the blind copying of landscapes, i.e. naturalism.
Shevchenko looked upon nature's highest creation - the human being
- as the main object in art.
His view on the role of art in society is directly connected with
his materialistic outlook. He considers the service to humanity
as the highest vocation of an artist.
The best works of Shevchenko after his exile were those done in
the technique of etching with aquatint. The exceptions are some
of the self-portraits and portraits in paints and pencil. Among
the latter mentioned are the wonderful portraits of the actor Shchepkin,
and the outstanding Negro actor, Ira Aldridge. It is enough to compare
these portraits with the artist's earlier ones to be convinced of
the growth of Shevchenko's realistic mastery. As to the free and
easy stroke and the profound psychological depiction, these portraits
can be placed on a par with the best portraits of the masters of
the late XIX century.
Portrait of M.Shchepkin,
Portrait of I.Aldridge,
Portrait of F.Tolstoy,
a Hat and Sheepskin Coat, Engraving, 1860
In the art of etching Shevchenko achieved such great success, that
the Imperial Academy of Arts was obliged to award him with the honorable
title of Academician Engraver.
Special attention is attracted by his portrait and self-portrait
etchings. Very impressive is the profound psychologism, with which
Shevchenko portrayed the image of the well-known sculptor and Vice-president
of the Academy of Arts, F. P. Tolstoy, who played a great role in
freeing Shevchenko from exile.
Among the etchings of later years are those illustrating the works
of other artists: "Friends" by I.Sokolov, Rembrandt's
"The Parable About the Workers in the Vineyard",
as well as works illustrating his own themes: "An Old Man
in the Graveyard", "Mangishlatsky Garden"
Of his portraits, executed in the technique of etching, the "Self-Portrait
with a Candle" and "Self-Portrait in a Hat and
Sheepskin Coat" can be singled out. The first was executed
after a drawing of his childhood years that has not been preserved.
We see a young Shevchenko with a candle raised high in his hand
and this is symbolic, for it was with a lighted candle that Shevchenko
started out on the road of creative work; it was with it that died,
leaving behind him the flame of artistic heritage, which to this
day warms the hearts of people the world over.
Beggar in the Graveyard,
a Candle, 1860
In the summer of 1859, during his last days in Ukraine, Shevchenko
created only a small number of sketches, for he was carefully watched
by gendarmes. Under these conditions there could be no freedom of
creative work. But even so, what Shevchenko accomplished is still
of great interest to us. His works, executed while in Ukraine, as
to their mastery and realistic expression, are way ahead of his
era and can be undoubtedly placed on a par with the drawings of
the most outstanding artists of the late XIX century.
And like the literary heritage of Shevchenko, his works in the
fine arts are immortal. They will continue to live for ages reminding
mankind of the great creative deed that the great son of humanity
accomplished for the welfare of people the world over.