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Tove Jansson's Unknown Paintings And The New Truths of The Moomins: The Reverse Side of Moominvalley

Her paintings are a real discovery, and the Moomins are just the tip of this iceberg. Tove Jansson’s role in the visual arts was almost overshadowed by her cute characters, but in 2017, two of her exhibitions were held. We present the incredibly diverse works of the Moomins' creator, find new quotes of her characters, and discover the secrets of life. "Your plans don’t have to be extraordinary to make you extraordinarily happy…"
— You'll become an adult soon if you keep on it… You will see and hear the way they do, which means that you won’t see or hear anything.
Tove Jansson
"In this world there is a place for absolutely everything. Lack of common sense coexists with cast-iron logic. It combines elements of surrealism, dreams and everyday realness in its fantastic frame…" Tove Jansson.
Tove Jansson, a daughter of an artist and a sculptor, who received an excellent art education, did not just consider herself an artist — she was one.
Tove Jansson. Mysterious landscape
Mysterious landscape
1930-th , 61×152.5 cm
… But how did it happen that the artist’s projects "for children" overshadowed her "serious" work? And should we even distinguish them? After all, all this is the reflection and philosophy of her life journey… And the wording of Tove Jansson’s credo remained with the amusing Moomins!
Tove Jansson’s books about the extraordinary inhabitants of Moominvalley were published in editions of multimillion copies and broke all records in popularity in the 1960s. The cute characters of Tove Jansson’s stories taught children not only in Finland and the USSR — they fascinated kids and their parents all over the world! In Europe, America, Japan and China, children engrossed themselves in stories, dove into comics, watched theatrical performances and cartoon series about the glorious adventures of the naughty company.
— Your plans don’t have to be extraordinary to make you extraordinarily happy

The first two stories — The Moomins and the Great Flood and Comet in Moominland brought their writer great popularity, and the next book The Magician’s Hat (published in 1949) caused a real Moomin-boom in many countries around the world. The huge income from the sales of production rights to different theatres as well as the sales of rights for making souvenirs with the Moomins made Jansson one of the richest women in Finland.

Money helped the artist to find the desired solitude away from the public: she bought the uninhabited island Klovharun in the Gulf of Finland, built a modest wooden house and spent the summer months with her friend there from 1964 to 1998.

Photo: Tove Jansson, 1956

— Sometimes someone needs silence and solitude, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. You can’t be friendly and sociable all the time. You just don’t have enough time for it
Photo: Tove-Jansson-(c)Per-Olov-Jansson
You shouldn’t restrict yourself when the whole world is at your disposal. "But that’s how it is when you start wanting to have things. Now, I just look at them, and when I go away I carry them in my head. Then my hands are always free, because I don’t have to carry a suitcase. The way I see it, I can own anything on Earth, even the Earth itself, if I say it’s mine."
Tove Jansson. Cover for T. Jansson's book "Moomin Dol in November"

Having become a celebrity, Tove Jansson didn’t even think about reposing on her laurels — it’s not in her nature. She wrote a dozen short stories for adult audience, took up creating costumes and stage design for theater productions about the Moomins, and had a really good time working on paintings in kindergartens and schools. She had enough passion and enthusiasm to paint frescoes at Helsinki City Hall and create an altarpiece of the Teuva Church.

Everything Tove did ended up perfect and brought joy to people.

Book cover of T. Jansson’s Moominvalley in November

Tove Jansson and Niilo Suihko painting the fresco Party in the Countryside. Helsinki City Hall, the Kaupunginkellari restaurant. Photo: © Helsinki City Museum / Foto Roos
Tove Jansson, The Wise and Foolish Virgins altarpiece in Teuva Church, 1954
— Lie on the bridge and watch the water flowing past. Or run, or wade through the swamp in your red boots. Or roll yourself up and listen to the rain falling on the roof.
It’s very easy to enjoy yourself.

Happy childhood

What is the secret of the Moomins stories' huge popularity? Maybe, it lies in the image of a house in which the light is always on, there’s plenty of delicious food, attention and care from your loved ones, and where you feel safe. This is exactly the way Tove Jansson remembers her childhood.

Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki in 1914 to the family of the renowned Swedish artist Signe Hammarsten and Finnish sculptor Viktor Jansson. The Bohemian parents adored their children — the eldest daughter Tove and the sons — Lars and Per Olov, doing their best at encouraging them to find their own way in art. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Tove became an illustrator in her teens: at the age of 10, she already created drawings for a children’s magazine, surprising even her own parents with confidence, appearing out of nowhere, and good intuition.

"Moominmammas can fix everything," that’s how Tove described her mother in her stories. Tove also understood that her mother sacrificed her career to be a good mom and wife.

Tove Jansson. Family
1942, 89×116 cm
Tove Jansson. The cover of the book T. Jansson about the Moomin

The artist recalled that after participating in the civil war in 1918, her father often sank into depression. But sometimes a good storm put him in a good mood: when the clouds were gathering, he would take the whole family into a boat to sail "to the wildest places and remote islands."

Tove would keep that love for travelling, sea, islands and the archipelago for the rest of her life. And later her friendly characters would often go boating along the rivers.

Сover of T. Jansson’s book about the Moomins

Tove Jansson. Sea
1962, 65×100 cm
— Imagine how lonely a person whom everyone fears must be
Tove Jansson. Cover for the magazine "Garm" October 1944

After graduation, Tove became enthusiastic about politics and in the 1940s, worked for Garm magazine — she drew anti-fascist illustrations.

In general, the artist’s youth fell on a wartime, with one war following the other, and Tove accused the entire masculine gender of it:

"I can’t afford it, I haven’t time to marry any of them! I’m no good at admiring and comforting. Of course I’m sorry for them and of course I like them, but I’ve no intention of devoting my whole life to a performance I’ve seen through… I can see what would happen to my work if I married… And I refuse to give birth to children who can be killed in some future war," she wrote to her best friend.

Tove Jansson. Cover of the October 1944 issue of Garm magazine

— Even the saddest things can be not so very sad if you have the right attitude about them.

"When one’s dead, one’s dead," said Tuu-tikki conciliatory. "This squirrel will become earth all in his time. And still later on, there’ll grow new trees from him, with new squirrels skipping about in them. Do you think that’s so very sad?"

Tove Jansson Sleeping in the Roots, 1930s

— Sometimes all one must do to reassure someone is to remind them you are there.
The artist really never got married and had no children. The Moomins became her kids, they appeared in response to the need and desire to escape into a kind and naive world where justice reigns and you can always rely on your friends to help you out.
  • In the pictures –
  • Tove Jansson with her "kids"
— In everyday life, geniuses only cause trouble
An important feature of Tove Jansson’s work was its' autobiographical nature. Some stories from the life of the Moomins are closely related to the artist’s personal world and experiences, and it’s possible to recognize her close relatives, friends and lovers in the characters' personality traits. The main thing in the artist’s life was love and work, and she was uncompromising about both of them. For several years, she was in a romantic relationship with journalist Atos Wirtanen, they were engaged, but never got married.

It was Wirtanen with his green hat and independent temper who became the prototype for Snufkin, leading the wandering life.

Tove found love and friendship among women. Her first girlfriend was Vivica Bandler, a theatre director. They kept their relationship secret, but Tove wrote about it in The Magician’s Hat. Thingumy and Bob, friends who were as close as lips and teeth and even spoke a language no one could understand — are Tove and Vivica. They have a priceless treasure — a huge ruby (their love) — and are trying to hide it from the evil Groke. At that time, bisexual relationships were condemned in Finland.

— Sometimes it is terribly difficult being one’s own self.
Tove Jansson The Magician’s Hat
Tove Jansson. Figure to the story of T. Jansson "Magic Winter"

Tove Jansson’s second and last love was the Finnish artist Tuulikki Pietilä - they lived together for 45 years. Tuulikki also got into the world of the Moomins as a very practical character of Tuu-tikki.

They traveled together, spent a lot of time on the island, and seemed to be very happy, but Tove never dared to introduce mom to her companion and kept their connection in "elegant silence".

An illustration to T. Jansson’s story Moominland Midwinter

The literary fame of Tove Jansson as a creator of the Moomin characters has overshadowed her other art projects. "It was hugely important to Tove that she be recognised as a talented fine artist in addition to being the creator of the Moomins," said her niece Sophia Jansson.

Tove Jansson, who received an impeccable academic education and was aware of the newest and most progressive trends of that time, became a remarkable painter.

In 1930s, Tove studied drawing at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki and in Paris. The final chord of the girl’s art education was a trip to the capitals of Western Europe, organized by her parents.

Tove Jansson Self-Portrait

— I never believed compasses. They only confuse those who feel the right path
— You can’t ever be really free if you admire somebody too much.
Tove Jansson. Blue hyacinth on the windowsill

Jansson worked on surrealistic paintings in the 1930s, got into the art of modernism in the 1950s, and her abstract works appeared in the 1960−1970s.

Her paintings give away the artist’s interest in the work of the old Flemish masters and geniuses of the 19th-early 20th centuries. Looking at her portraits and still lifes, one thinks of Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, Degas and Modigliani.

Tove Jansoon Blue Hyacinth, 1945

Tove Jansson. Park view
Park view
1941, 60.5×73 cm
The artist has a lot of interesting and unusual self-portraits. We don’t know that side of the artist; in the pictures, she is immersed in herself, even strict, although in many photos she has an open smile and an insane gleam in her eyes. Tuve speaks about loneliness and self-cognition — this topic can be found even in her stories about not-so-carefree life of the Moomins.
Many of these self-portraits were shown at the largest exhibition, which was arranged by the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London (October 25, 2017 — January 28, 2018). Viewers saw about 150 paintings by Tove Jansson.
Photo: southbankcentre
— You know, sometimes, when everything is fine, I get extremely bored
Photo: southbankcentre
Tove Jansson also created wonderful series of illustrations for other fairy tales. Particularly impressive are her illustrations for Alice in Wonderland by L. Carroll
The style of illustrations for Alice is quite different from that of the Moomins series — it is difficult to even imagine that they were created by the same artist!
Tove Jansson died in 2001 at the age of 87 years. The writer remains a favourite storyteller for many adults, and the characters of her stories still continue to teach us the most important rules of life… Or simply to make people smile.
— How wonderful it is to finally become old and retire!.. Oh, I love my relatives so much. Especially now that I don’t have to think about them anymore
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