This first major retrospective of Tove Jansson’s work in the UK is full of surprises. Famed for creating the Moomin characters and books this exhibition shows that she was a wonderful artist, was sought out as an illustrator of books, had an uncanny talent for dry humour and satire, and was an amazing storyteller, creating tales for all ages, writes Michael Holland…
Born to a graphic artist mother and sculptor father, Tove grew up surrounded by art and when still a teenager she went off to study art in Stockholm, followed by further courses in Finland and Paris, and was contributing to political satire magazine, Garm, in her twenties, depicting Hitler as a petulant child wanting everything and anything, much to the annoyance of the Finnish government who had sided with Germany.
She went on to create a hundred cover images for Garm. In a country ravaged by war and a family divided, life was not easy. Even forging a career in the art world as a woman meant standing up against the system, and this bold, in-your-face attitude can be seen in a series of self-portraits where she painted herself as defiant and challenging.
Besides working as a graphic artist she developed the Moomins during the war years, bringing together her gift as an artist and her storytelling skills. Her early artwork has a mystical, fairytale-like style so she was considered perfect to illustrate Swedish versions of The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of The Snark.
In the 50s London’s Evening Standard commissioned her Moomin comic strips for adults which were a regular feature up into the 1970s.
Through 150 drawings and paintings, many of which have never been seen before, the exhibition shows how Jansson’s work and style developed with time; how she compartmentalised the different aspects of her work, and how she never let being a woman hold her back.
Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is on at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD until 28 January 2018; Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm (And Bank Holidays).
Admission: £15.50 Adult, £14.50 Senior Citizens, £7 concessions.