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

tove jansson (1914 - 2001)

– the multifaceted pioneer 

Lots to be sold at our Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary Art + Design 8 – 10 November 2023

”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. The sale includes three interesting works by Tove Jansson, in which she is showing her multifaceted artistic talent in both a vivid illustration for the Moomin series and in the two landscape paintings in oil. 

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 seven year old little girl, Tove was eager to get her own stories published and began to write novels and poems in homemade books from ”Tove Förlag AB”, which she sold to her classmates. In the 1920s, she published fourteen books at home in a very limited edition and coloured them by hand afterwards. At the age of thirteen, Allas Krönika published three of her cartoon illustrations, a milestone for the young girl who’s mind was already set on an artistic career. During the following year she had to fill in for her mother, who left work to take care of Tove’s sick grandmother, and worked on illustrations for the tenth number of the the Finish childrens’ magazine Lunkentus. Lunkentus accepted her suggestions and agreed to publish six episodes more of her series. The successful debut as an illustrator opened more doors for the teenage Tove Jansson, who continued to create joyful drawings for various magazines and newspapers. 

So far, 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 and continue her studies at Tekniska skolan instead. 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. Included in the sale is a stunning coastal landscape from the 1930s, an early example of Tove’s brilliant use of colours and remarkable sense of capturing the light. 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. One of Tove Jansson’s sketches depicting her famous Moomin characters is included in the sale, a wonderful composition showing the process behind Tove Jansson’s beloved Moomin series. 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. 

Alongside her illustrations, Tove continued to paint and favoured still lifes and landscapes. Executed in the 1950s is the larger oil on canvas on offer in this sale, who was acquired by the present owner’s father during a visit to Finland. The lush landscape is built up by a warm palette, highlighting the true colours of nature. Tove Jansson became a female pioneer during her lifetime and is regarded to be one of the most influential artists of our time. The present works, which have never before been offered at auction, together present a rare insight to her fascinating life and artistry.

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Jeanna Ahlin


Modern och samtida konst
Tel: 0734-32 41 45

Sofie Bexhed


Tel: 0705-22 61 62

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