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Shevchenko the Artist

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A presentation outlining the contours of Taras Shevchenko's life as a visual artist who translated verse into vision

A presentation outlining the contours of Taras Shevchenko's life as a visual artist who translated verse into vision


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  • 1. Verse in Vision an exhibition of prints by Taras Shevchenko cambridge ukrainian studies cambridge ukrainian studies www.CambridgeUkrainianStudies.org.uk departments of slavonic studies and history of art
  • 2. Works consulted Taras Shevchenko. Povne zibrannia tvoriv v desiaty tomakh. Vols. ! 7-10. Kyiv, 1961. Z. P. Tarakhan-Bereza. Shevchenko -- poet i khudozhnyk. Kyiv, 1985. Pavlo Zaitsev. Zhyttia Tarasa Shevchenka. Kyiv, 1994. VERSE IN VISION AN EXHIBITION OF PRINTS BY TARAS SHEVCHENKO CAMBRIDGE • LONDON APRIL - OCTOBER 2009 Cambridge Ukrainian Studies, a new initiative of the Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge, is pleased to present ‘Verse in Vision: An Exhibition of Prints by Taras Shevchenko’ in conjunction with the Department of History of Art and the British Ukrainian Society. Future Ukrainian Studies Events Michaelmas Term 2009 A night of Ukrainian ethno-groove-folk-punk music The Junction, Cambridge ‘Public Readings at a Theatre in Cambridge’ A celebration of the works of Nikolai Gogol’ / Mykola Hohol’ Lectures, film screenings, and more For more details, visit www.CambridgeUkrainianStudies.org.uk Join our mailing list or find us on facebook Cambridge Ukrainian Studies aims to promote and contribute to the study of Ukraine in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond. It is committed to deepening public understanding of Ukraine and to advancing fresh, innovative approaches to research on Europe’s second-largest country, which is a critical crossroads between ‘East’ and ‘West’ with a rich historical, linguistic, and cultural inheritance. The first stage of the Ukrainian Studies initiative is an introductory paper on the language, literature, and culture of Ukraine, available to students in their second year and above, starting in academic year 2008-2009. The University of Cambridge is also pleased to continue its open courses in the Ukrainian language. Visit us online at www.CambridgeUkrainianStudies.org.uk
  • 3. A Brief Introduction to His Life and Art Portraiture Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko was born a serf in the village of Moryntsi (central Ukraine) in 1814. Although his poetry won him worldwide fame, drawing was his first passion. Orphaned at the age of twelve, Shevchenko found refuge from loneliness and hardship in studies and sketches, and his owner Pavlo Enhel'hardt soon took notice of his talent. At the age of fourteen, Shevchenko became Enhel'hardt’s kozachok (houseboy). In 1831 he left with Enhel'hardt’s retinue for Saint Petersburg, enduring a bitterly cold journey dramatised in a painting of 1961 by Al'bin Gavdzinskii (above left). Shevchenko produced 43 self-portraits and over 150 portraits of friends, patrons, and prominent figures. In 1858, he met the famous African-American stage actor Ira Aldridge, whose sensational turn as Othello was captivating audiences on a tour across the Russian Empire. Katerina Iunge, the daughter of Count F. P. Tolstoi who acted as an interpreter for the two men, recalled their poignant first encounter: ‘Beyond their similar character, the two had much in common and shared profound feelings for one another: one had been a serf, the other a slave. Both experienced enormous suffering and sadness in life, and both deeply loved their people.’ In Saint Petersburg, Shevchenko often stole away to the Summer Garden to sketch the marble Venetian sculptures lining its paths. There he met the Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko (1807-76), who became a passionate advocate of Shevchenko’s art and a vocal campaigner for his freedom. Soshenko introduced Shevchenko to Karl Briullov (1799-1852), who had recently returned to Saint Petersburg from Rome to take up the post of professor at the Imperial Academy of Arts. This introduction is featured in a painting of 1952 by Heorhii Melikhov (left). Briullov was impressed with the twenty-four-yearold Shevchenko and devised a plan with Soshenko and others to buy his manumission from serfdom. To raise the needed funds, Briullov donated his portrait of the Russian poet Vasilii Zhukovskii as an item for an exclusive auction held in May 1838. The wife of Tsar Nikolai I, Aleksandra Fedorovna, was the high bidder. As a gesture of friendship, Shevchenko offered to paint Aldridge’s portrait. Iunge described the sitting in this way: ‘For a few minutes only the scratching of the pencil on paper could be heard, but Aldridge could hardly sit still. He began to squirm, we exclaimed that he had to sit at attention, he grimaced, and then we burst out in laughter. Shevchenko stopped his work in frustration. Aldridge made a frightened face and once again sat quietly. Suddenly he said, “May I sing?” Shevchenko acquiesced. Then Aldridge began a beautifully touching melody, which gradually became more lively and ended with him dancing wildly around the studio... Captivated by all the merry-making, Taras Hryhorovych sang Ukrainian songs and became engrossed in conversation about the similar features of different peoples...’ The signatures of both the artist and the actor can be found at the bottom of the portrait. Portrait of Ira Aldridge !"#$#%$ &'#( )*+#,+-. 1858
  • 4. A free man, Shevchenko returned to Ukraine in the 1840s to find a society and culture in pain. In the poetic and visual texts of this period, we sense the artist’s profound concern for the slavery and decay overtaking his homeland – but also his faith in a future of justice and freedom for all people. In 1847 Shevchenko was arrested for his association with the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a secret organisation based in Kyiv that called for federalism and equal rights for all peoples in the Russian Empire. During his interrogation, the authorities discovered on his person a collection of anti-tsarist satirical poems, which provoked a particularly harsh punishment. Sentenced to military exile near the Caspian Sea, Shevchenko was forbidden to write, paint, or draw by Tsar Nikolai himself. Shevchenko defied the tsar’s order and continued to produce poetry and art throughout his ten-year exile, often concealing his work in his boots. The drawings and paintings from this period express a deep sense of personal suffering and alienation as well as a fascination and solidarity with the peoples of Central Asia. In 1857 Shevchenko was finally pardoned and released from military service. Upon his return from exile, he was placed under police surveillance. In the last years of his life, he was recognized as an academician-engraver by the Imperial Academy of Arts. The bestowal of the honor is the subject of a 1949 painting by Ihor Rieznyk (right). Taras Shevchenko died in March 1861, only days before Tsar Aleksandr II’s Emancipation Reform. He left behind a corpus of over a thousand works of art, of which 835 are extant today.
  • 5. Genre Paintings Shevchenko studied under one of the most prominent genre painters of his time, Karl Briullov. Although Briullov won fame with his historical epic The Last Day of Pompeii (1830-33), he made his early career by painting scenes drawn from everyday life: confessions of Italian women in church, for example, or the quiet parting of two young lovers, as in An Interrupted Date (Prervannoe svidanie, 1823-27), featured below. Shevchenko’s Gypsy Fortune Teller, which was exhibited in Saint Petersburg in 1841 and awarded a medal from the Imperial Academy of Arts, is a homage to his teacher. Note the placement of the painting’s subjects (whose hands unite at the center of the canvas), the masterful simulation of sunlight filtered through tree leaves, the girl’s blue sash, even the dog -- all of which seem to refer to Briullov’s earlier work. Gypsy Fortune Teller Циганка-ворожка 1841
  • 6. Landscapes Shevchenko’s landscape paintings reveal the true measure of his talent. Alternately joyous and mournful, they are meditations on the passage of time and the permeability of the physical and spiritual worlds. Ascension Cathedral in Pereiaslav is a part of the artist’s Album of 1845. From April to October 1845, Shevchenko travelled throughout Ukraine devoting watercolours and works in pencil and sepia to monuments of Ukraine’s art and architecture as well as the everyday life of Ukrainian villagers. Ascension Cathedral makes an appearance in Shevchenko’s novella Twins of 1855: ‘This cathedral -- whose architecture is wonderful, grand, half-Baroque, half-Byzantine -- was built in [1700] by that renowned anathema, Ivan Mazepa.’ The reference to Mazepa, today a national hero of Ukraine, drips with sarcasm. Although cathedrals, monasteries, and the clergy flourished in Ukraine during his reign, the het'man was anathemised by the Russian Orthodox Church for betraying Peter I in defense of the sovereignty of the Cossack Hetmanate. The anathema remains in effect to this day. Ascension Cathedral in Pereiaslav !"#$%&%$&'()* &"+", - .%,%/&01-2 1845
  • 7. Activist Paintings Shevchenko’s poetry abounds with stirring calls for social justice and equality. His paintings are no different. While in exile, he composed a series of works in sepia which call attention to the poverty and suffering of children in Central Asia. In Kazakh Boy Playing with Cat, our experience of what should be a lighthearted moment is shaken by the sight of the child’s distended belly and the play of dark shadow in the foreground that obscures his face. Note how the artist places himself in the work behind the Kazakh boy, effectively in solidarity with him. He does the same in Baigushi (The Baigush, 1853), which features two young Kazakh brothers begging for food: In the dialogue between the painting’s ideal spectator in the imperial center and the painting’s subject on the imperial periphery, Shevchenko notably positions himself on the side of the latter, on the side of the neglected and the poor -- and looks out at the spectator with an expectant gaze. Kazakh Boy Playing with Cat Казахський хлопчик, що грається з кішкою 1856-57
  • 8. cambridge ukrainian studies departments of slavonic studies and history of art ! ! ! ! Custom framing provided by the Cambridge Framing Centre 20 Sussex Street, Cambridge CB1 1PA Embrace, then, my brothers, The smallest brother... ! ! With the exception of the images provided by Cambridge Ukrainian Studies and the Department of History of Art, the prints exhibited in ‘Verse in Vision’ are the generous gift of the Taras H. Shevchenko Museum in Toronto, Canada. We thank them very much for their partnership. "#$%&%'( ), #*+', &-., /+0&($1-2- #*+'+... Taras Shevchenko ‘My Friendly Epistle’ (1845)
  • 9. cambridge ukrainian studies departments of slavonic studies and history of art ! ! ! ! Custom framing provided by the Cambridge Framing Centre 20 Sussex Street, Cambridge CB1 1PA Embrace, then, my brothers, The smallest brother... ! ! With the exception of the images provided by Cambridge Ukrainian Studies and the Department of History of Art, the prints exhibited in ‘Verse in Vision’ are the generous gift of the Taras H. Shevchenko Museum in Toronto, Canada. We thank them very much for their partnership. "#$%&%'( ), #*+', &-., /+0&($1-2- #*+'+... Taras Shevchenko ‘My Friendly Epistle’ (1845)
  • 10. Verse in Vision an exhibition of prints by Taras Shevchenko cambridge ukrainian studies cambridge ukrainian studies www.CambridgeUkrainianStudies.org.uk departments of slavonic studies and history of art