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Tove Jansson (Finland/Sweden 1914‑2001)

Little My and Hemulen

To be sold at our Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary Art + Design & Watches 14 – 16 May 2024

Lot 511 Tove Jansson (Finland/Sweden 1914‑2001). Little My and Hemulen. Charchoal on paper, 70 x 51 cm.

With inscription on the support: ”Karin och mamma Britt var på NK 1957 (?) och där satt Tove Jansson och signerade Muminböcker. Man kunde också betala för att få en affisch som hon ritade på plats med kolstift, medans vi såg på!”. Translated: Karin and mother Britt were at NK in 1957 (?) and Tove Jansson sat there and signed Muminbooks. You could also pay to have a poster which she drew on the spot with charcoal, while we watched!


50.000 – 70.000 SEK
€ 4.300 – 6.000

”You yourself are all ages, youngest and oldest and constantly at the beginning of your life, which you have already lived so many times over.” 

The words were spoken by the writer and journalist Atos Wirtanen, Tove Jansson’s longtime friend and lover. An accurate description of a woman who walked her own path in life and dedicated herself to the arts within different fields, as she became famous for being an illustrator, writer, painter, scenographer, cartoonist and mural artist at the same time. According to a family legend, Tove learned to paint before she took her first steps. It was love at first sight when she discovered art, which she did early on since her father was the sculptor Viktor Jansson (1886-1958) and her mother the graphic designer and illustrator Signe Hammerstein-Jansson (1882-1970). Both her parents worked from home and as a little child, Tove would often sit in her mother’s lap watching her draw. She learned how to read early on and one of her favourite novels was ”Bland tomtar och troll” with illustrations by John Bauer, as well as Elsa Beskow’s colourful illustrations and stories where ”the children were left to discover their own fantasies and thoughts”. Already as a young girl, Tove was eager to get her own stories published and began to write novels and poems in homemade books with her mind already set on an artistic career. 

Photo: Reino Loppinen, 1956
Photo: Reino Loppinen, 1956

Tove was an almost self-taught artist with an unmistakable talent and big dreams. Her mother allowed her to drop out of school in 1930 so that she could move to Stockholm from Finland and continue her studies at Tekniska skolan. Moving abroad at the age of sixteen was a huge challenge but Tove worked hard and relentlessly, in her journal from 1931 she wrote: ”I have to become an artist for the sake of my family”. Alongside her studies she continued to illustrate to earn her living, but living in Sweden also opened her eyes for painting in a more broad sense. Eventually she moved back to Helsinki and continued her studies at Finska konstföreningens ritskola (Ateneum). Many of the teachers had conservative opinions that did not always compile with Tove Jansson’s, but one teacher stood out. Sam Vanni became a big inspiration for Tove and also her mentor and lover.

The initial ideas to the Moomin series entered Tove Jansson’s mind during a summer holiday in 1930. One day she quickly scrawled a small graffiti sketch in pencil on a piece of paper, depicting a troll with a long nose without arms or ears. She wrote ”SNORK” next to it in capital letters and added ”Frihet är det skönsta ting för den som frihet rätt kan bära” [Freedom is the most beautiful thing for the one who can rightfully bear it]. She recalled that the spherical shape of Moomin’s nose came from a stump covered in snow that she once saw. Early examples of the characters are shown in her journals and during the winter of 1939, when Tove found herself depressed by the news of the outbreak of the war, she occupied her dark thoughts by writing a story about the ”Snork”-character, finally naming it ”Mumintrollet”. The war prevented her to work on the Moomin series for some years, but in 1944 she returned to the manuscript. The same year she moved to a spectacular apartment in a tower where she would both live and work for a long time to come. From her new home she finalised the happy end of the Moomin story and illustrated it with her humorous characters. Fortunate enough the book publisher company Söderströms agreed to publish her manuscript and it became the first book ever to be published under her real name. During Jansson’s lifetime, the Moomin stories were published as novels, picture books and comics. Today they have been translated into approximately 50 languages and continue to amuse both children and adults over generations. Tove Jansson became a female pioneer during her lifetime and is regarded to be one of the most influential artists of our time. 

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