IN SAINT PETERSBURG
Taras Shevchenko arrived in St. Petersburg from Vilnius, along with the
rest of the servants of Paul Englehardt, in February of 1831. He was on
the eve of his seventeenth birthday. It was here, in the Tsarist capital
and the centre of the cultural life of the Russian Empire, that
Shevchenko was to mature, first as an artist, and as a poet, writer and
His master, still realising that the youth would not make a good house
servant and wanting a "court painter", apprenticed young Taras in 1832
to the master painter V. Shyrayev; known to be both stern and arbitrary.
Shyrayev was also a famous painter, decorator and art expert, who ran an
enterprise engaged in painting the walls and ceilings of the homes of
the St. Petersburg elite and public buildings.
As such, Shyrayev was in contact with and entertained the cream of
Tsarist society and it is only logical to assume that the young
apprentice Shevchenko also became exposed to many of the ideas then
circulating in the Russian capital. Popular amongst the intelligentsia
were ideas of reform, many borrowed from the ill-fated 1825 Decembrist
uprising by young officers who had borrowed heavily from the philosophy
of the French Revolution. In later life, a more politically mature
Shevchenko referred to the Decembrists as "the first Russian heralds of
freedom". While in Vilnius, Taras also had the experience of having
witnessed first hand the Polish uprising against Tsarist rule.
While a good part of Shevchenko's apprenticeship was spent mixing paints
and delivering items to various of Shyrayev's projects across St.
Petersburg, he also honed his own talents and learned much from the
master painter. Although he was still officially a serf, his
apprenticeship nonetheless allowed him a certain degree of personal
freedom in the city. In his spare moments, normally in the evenings, he
would wander the city making sketches, often in the Summer Gardens
during the northern "white lights".
It was because of this habit that Shevchenko met a fellow Ukrainian and
artist, Ivan Soshenko, in July of 1835. A friendship was formed and
Soshenko took Shevchenko under his wing, teaching him some of the basics
of painting and introducing the talented youth to some of the most
enlightened and cultured elements of St. Petersburg society, including
the Russian artist Karl Bryulov, the poet Zhukovsky (who had been a
tutor to the Tsar's family), Ukrainian writer Hrebinka, the conference
secretary of the Academy of Arts V Hrihorovich and others.
Moving in this circle of the Russian intelligentsia, Shevchenko won the
hearts of this enlightened segment of society, which quickly recognized
the young man's talents and realized that they could only be properly
developed if he were a free man.
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