Biography of Taras Shevchenko

taras shevchenkoTaras Shevchenko was born on March 9 [O.S. February 25] 1814 in the village of Moryntsi, Zvenigorodka county, Kiev Governorate in the Russian Empire (now in Zvenyhorodka Raion, Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine). His family were serfs (a person tied to the land of his/her master) and worked for a Lord Engelhardt. In 1823, Taras' mother died and in 1825 his father died. Taras went to work for precentor Bohorsky as an apprentice. In that time, Taras became familiarized with some works of Ukrainian Literature. He would eventually run away from Bohorsky.

When Taras turned 14 Lord Engelhardt died and his son, Pavel, became the new master. He turned Taras into a court service person (kitchen boy etc.). Pavel soon caught Taras painting and had him whipped for it. Taras continued to paint and draw, though.

Pavel Engelhardt eventually moved to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg and took Taras with him. He decided that Taras would study painting from Vasiliy Shiriayev with the goal of Taras becoming Engelhardt's "chamber artist', which was in fashion at the time.

At the academy, Taras met many other artists and writers who would influence his later work. Ivan Soshenko, a Ukrainian artist, would introduce Taras to Alexy Venetsianov (Russian painter), Yevhen Hrebinka, and Vasily Zukovsky. Through these men, Taras would meet Karl Bryullov, who was a renowned Russian painter. Bryullov would eventually donate an original painting to be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to pay for Taras' freedom in May of 1838.

With his freedom in hand Taras could become a full-time student at the academy. He became a student of Karl Bryullov and earned several awards while at the academy. In 1844, he was awarded the title "Master of Fine Arts'. While at the academy Taras published his first book of poetry called Kobzar. Ivan Franko, a Ukrainian poet would have this to say about Kobzar "[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'

After graduating Taras went back to the Ukraine where he became involved with the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a secret political society with the goal of promoting Ukrainian Nationalism. In 1847 Taras, along with other members of the Brotherhood, were arrested and forced to serve in the army. During his time in the army, Taras continued to write and paint. Taras remained in the army until 1857.

For the remaining years of his life, Taras would continue to write and paint. After his difficult years in exile, his health remained very poor. Taras Shevchenko would die in St. Petersburg on March 10th, 1861, the day after his 47th birthday. He was at first buried in St. Petersburg but his friends would eventually move his body back to his beloved Ukraine. The poet died 7 days before the Emancipation of Serfs was decreed.

His Legacy

Shevchenko's legacy lives on well after his death. His collection of poems in Kobzar marks the beginning of a new era in the development of Ukranian language and literature. His ability to blend together the common Ukranian with more formal Slavic (the root language of Ukranian and Russian) language roots allowed him to cement the Ukranian literary language and make it useful for future literary works.

His political poems served to awaken the national pride of the Ukranian people. His literary works were translated mainly into Polish, Russian, Czech and German, and found a resonance with the people there, who were experiencing the same thing as the peasants in the Ukraine. By the 1990s parts of the Kobzar had been translated into more than 100 languages and his works have also become a source for various other works of literature, music, and art.