Tove Jansson – The artist in the shadows of the Moomins

8.6.2017 by

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) may be most famous for her Moomin characters, but there was much more to her as an artist and she produced a vast array of works during her lifetime. The exhibition Tove Jansson – Art, Love & Moomins opens this Saturday at Kunstforeningen GL STRAND – an impressive exhibition which takes on the matter of presenting Tove Jansson the artist, and not only ‘the Mother of Moomins’.

Tove Marika Jansson was born in 1914, the daughter of a sculptor and an illustrator. In a family where art and the artistic process very much blended into their home-life, Tove is said to have learned to draw before she could walk. Growing up in this environment resulted in all three of the Jansson children pursuing creative careers; Tove became a painter, illustrator and writer, Per Olov a photographer and Lars a writer and Moomin cartoonist. Tove’s family and upbringing influenced her career in numerous ways, and formed a firm foundation for her philosophical approach to her career as an artist.

Tove was only fourteen when her first illustrations were printed, and fifteen when her first comic strip and satirical drawings were published. Her first picture book came out in 1933 and she participated in her first art exhibition the same year. In 1943 Tove had her first solo exhibition. As an artist, Tove was skilled in many ways, using several different techniques and styles. Her personal style evolved through her career from detailed dispositions and arrangements towards a more and more abstract aesthetic.

Tove struggled with issues of fitting in and being a female artist, while rejecting traditional gender roles and gender-based rules. In the mid-1950s, Tove met her life partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä.

Tove and Tuulikki. Photo: © Moomin Characters™

The Moomins
The earliest versions of the Moomins date from the 1930s, but the first Moomin book was not published until 1946. Writing the Moomin books provided Tove with an outlet for her to process and cope with the anxiety caused by the Second World War. But by the 1950s the Moomin market had intensified and expanded to the point where Tove expressed frustration over the phenomenon, which she felt was getting out of hand. The popularity of the Moomins did bring Tove worldwide fame, but it threatened to sideline her career as an artist. Because of this, Tove, who always saw herself primarily as a painter, changed her signature from ‘Tove’ to ‘Jansson’ during the 1960s to get away from the connotations of being simply ‘the Mother of the Moomins’. In 1970, 25 years after the release of the first Moomin book, Tove left the Moominvalley. She then continued to distance herself from her image as children’s literature author and wrote several short stories and novels for adults. Even though Jansson is a recognised author, she always considered writing only to be a hobby.

The Moomins, while still incredibly popular worldwide after several decades, turned out to be somewhat of a double-edged sword.

© Moomin Characters™

The exhibition
The exhibition, Tove Jansson – Art, Love & Moomins, created by the Ateneum Art Museum in co-operation with Kunstforeningen GL SRAND, presents a nuanced view of Tove Jansson’s work as a painter, writer, and illustrator. It includes paintings by Tove from the 1930s to the 1970s showing Jansson’s development as an artist through early surrealist paintings via modernist and experimental works to the lyrical style of her later works. The exhibition also includes some of Tove Jansson’s illustrations, from satirical anti-war illustrations to comics and children’s books. Not to mention Tove Jansson’s extensive work with the Moomins, which is presented through drawings, figures, and photographs.

The exhibition opens its doors on Saturday June 10th and will be open until September 3rd 2017. For a more comprehensive view of the beloved Finnish artist, we highly recommend a visit!

The Smoking Girl 1940. Photo: © Moomin Characters™