STRAWINSKY ? STRAVINSKY ? STRAVINSKI ?
In Europe, Igor used to sign his name ‘Strawinsky’, the phonetic transcription from the Russian, which observes the ‘v’ sound in his name and allows German speakers to avoid an ‘f’ sound. When the composer moved to the United States, he changed the spelling to ‘Stravinsky’ so that the ‘w’ would be pronounced ‘v’. UNESCO standardised the spelling of Slav names, bringing together the Polish ‘i’ and the Russian ‘ij’ in the single transcription, ‘i’. As for Théodore, he stayed with the original transcription and remained faithful to ‘Strawinsky’.
Théodore Strawinsky was born on 24th March, 1907 in Saint Petersburg, the first child of the composer Igor Stravinsky and his wife Catherine, née Nossenko. His brother and sisters, Ludmila, Soulima and Milène were all born between 1908 and 1914.
In 1910 the Stravinsky family established winter quarters in Montreux-Clarens, situated in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and spent their summers at their Ustilug estate in Ukraine.
At the outbreak of WW1 the Stravinsky family decided to remain in Switzerland. They stayed at the conductor Ernest Ansermet’s home, and in 1915 moved to the Villa Rogivue in Morges, and later on to Maison Bornand.
Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, René Auberjonois and Alexandre Cingria were frequent visitors and encouraged Théodore to draw and paint. The young boy executed his first drawings, among which La première de l'Histoire du soldat.
At the end of the war, Igor Stravinsky, who will lose his Russian citizenship shortly after, remained in Morges together with his family.
1920. The Stravinsky family left Switzerland and moved to Garches where Coco Chanel had placed at their disposal her mansion, Bel Respiro.
1921. Théodore discovered Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and received advice and encouragement from Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and André Derain. In the autumn, settling in Biarritz, in Villa des Rochers. However, the climate there proved too harsh for his mother Catherine’s fragile health.
1924. Settling in Villa des Roses in Nice. Regular visits to Jean Cocteau in Villefranche-sur-mer.
1927. At the age of twenty, Théodore Strawinsky had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Aux Quatre Chemins in Paris. At his second exhibition at the same gallery, the visitors’ book showed the signatures and sketches of many prestigious visitors, including Rouault, Lifar, Sauguet, Goossens, Souvtchinsky, Ansermet, Diaghilev, and Lourié.
1930 - 1932. After an idyllic summer holiday near Lake Paladru in Isère, where he visited Prokoviev who was staying in the region, Igor Stravinsky decided once again to move.
Théodore studied for two years at the André Lhote academy in Paris. The family took up residence at château de la Veronnière in Voreppe, situated in the outskirts of Grenoble.
Théodore took his first steps in the theatre world when he painted the sets for André Obey’s Loire, presented at the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier in Paris. This resulted in more than a dozen orders for costumes and sets in France, Belgium and Switzerland.
The artist tried his hand at etchings and produced around fifty circus scenes, ballerinas, dancers and nudes, as well as portraits of Ramuz, Lifar and his father. He exhibited his works in galleries in Paris, Lausanne, and Basel, and in the Musée de l’Athénée in Geneva.
The Stravinsky family acquired French citizenship (except for Théodore) and moved to Paris, first to 21 rue Viète, and then to 25 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré.
Jean Cocteau took Théodore to Meudon to see Jacques Maritain. There he met Denise Guerzoni, who later became his wife.
Théodore received his first illustration commission for Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin. In all, he executed sixteen illustration projects, including Ramuz’ Le Cirque for which he experimented with lithography. Reviewers highlighted the smoothness of his lines and his fidelity to the atmosphere in the original work.
June 29, 1936. Wedding of Théodore Strawinsky and Denise Guerzoni in Paris. The bride was the daughter of the Swiss painter Stéphanie Guerzoni, a former student of Ferdinand Hodler. She is also the step-daughter of the Czech writer and diplomat Josef Palivec, her mother's second husband.
November 30, 1938. Death of Théodore’s younger sister Ludmila, from tuberculosis. She was the mother of a one-year old baby called Catherine, after her maternal grandmother.
Théodore lost his mother, Catherine, in March and his paternal grandmother, Anna, in June.
Igor left Europe to settle in the United States. He acquired US citizenship in 1945, and was joined by his children Soulima and Milène, together with their respective families, in 1946 and 1947.
Théodore, although he had become stateless after the Russian revolution, enlisted in the French army. He was mobilised to Mans, but discharged soon after for health reasons. René Auberjonois offered to let Théodore stay in a little house in Villemur-sur-Tarn en Haute-Garonne, close to his son Maurice.
1940. Exhibition at The Perls Galleries in New York. Igor Stravinsky married, in a second wedding, Vera Soudeikine.
1941. Arrested under the Vichy regime, Théodore was liberated after a few months’ internment at Recebedou.
1942. Théodore and Denise moved to Switzerland and took up residence in Geneva. The Galerie Georges Moos organised several solo exhibitions for the artist between 1942 and 1947. Right up to his death, Théodore Strawinsky exhibited his works in Switzerland, in France and in Italy. In all, he had more than 50 exhibitions during his lifetime.
1943. Youri Mandelstramm, Ludmila’s widower and father of Catherine aged six at the time, died in deportation to the Jaworzno camp, Poland.
Théodore does the illustrations for Noces et autres histoires, of Ramuz.
From 1944 to 1966, the painter applied his brush to a number of stage sets and created the costumes for The Soldier's Tale and Sodome et Gomorrhe (1944), Petrushka (1945), The Rake’s Progress (1952) and The Firebird (1962).
1946. Denise and Théodore took in their niece, Catherine, who thus found a home after a long stay in a sanatorium in Leysin. He published Le Message d'Igor Strawinsky (Igor Stravinsky’s Message).
1948. Théodore was commissioned to execute stained glass windows in the church of Siviriez, near Fribourg. Over a period of almost thirty-five years, the artist carried out some forty works. He worked with the architects Denis Honegger, Hans van der Laan, Nico van der Laan and Jan de Jong, and joined the circle of famous artists that decorated holy places, including Léger, Lurçat, Rouault, Matisse, Braque, and Chagall.
1956. Théodore acquired Swiss citizenship for himself and his daughter (adopted in 1952).
From 1963 to 1978, the Netherlands became almost a second home. Théodore worked with Dom Hans van der Laan, the creator of the architectural current called the Bossche School, on the decoration of six churches in the Netherlands and Belgium.
6th April, 1971. Death of Igor Stravinsky, in New York. He was recognised as one of the most influential composers of modern music of the twentieth century.
1973. After his first book about his father, published in 1948, Théodore wrote a tribute to his parents entitled Catherine and Igor Stravinsky: a Family Album.
1976. Théodore Strawinsky was awarded the Arts, Sciences et Lettres silver medal by the Académie française for his entire creative work.
1977. The artist was awarded the insignia of Commander of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great, by Pope Paul VI, for ‘services rendered to the Church through his art’.
With his wife Denise, he worked occasionally on the inventory of his paintings.
1987. Suffering from sight loss, the artist put down his brushes.
16th May, 1989. Death of Théodore Strawinsky, in Geneva, at the age of 82. He was buried in the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, near Paris, beside his mother, his sister, his paternal grandmother, and his wife Denise who joined him in 2004.
A number of retrospectives followed.
Fondation Théodore Strawinsky
Rue de Jargonnant 2
1207 Geneva (Switzerland)