A staple of childhood, the Moomins have brought so much joy to so many people. Created by the talented illustrator Tove Jansson, the phenomenon continues to stretch across generations. And now in the first major UK retrospective of her work, Dulwich Picture Gallery presents graphic illustrations and paintings that are relatively unseen outside Jansson's home country of Finland.
Tove Jansson will bring together 150 works to reintroduce Jansson as an artist of exceptional breadth and talent, tracing the key stages of her prolific career including her surrealist-inspired paintings of the 1930s and abstract work of the '60s, her satirical anti-war cartoons and book jacket designs, as well as a comprehensive display of early sketches for the Moomin characters and original comic strips.
Although Jansson worked with various different media throughout her life, she always considered herself primarily a painter. Works such as Mysterious Landscape, 1930s, reveal her early fascination with storytelling and colour whilst a key selection of self-portraits painted during the 1930s and ‘40s allow us to interpret the emotional climate of the different stages of her life.
The Smoking Girl, 1940, shows the artist as defiant and challenging, depicting a moment of deep concentration, whilst two years later in Lynx Boa (Self Portrait), 1942, the expression is softer and calmer, yet full of courage and self-esteem.
During her first decades as an artist, Jansson produced an astonishing variety of illustrations. At the young age of 15, her already formidable talent for caricature caught the attention of the liberal political satire magazine, Garm, and she went on to draw more than 500 caricatures and 100 cover images for them.
Illustrating for Garm provided her with the experimental space to introduce the first resemblance of Moomintroll who appeared as the long snouted troll, ‘Snork’ in 1943. He would have frequent cameo appearances in her future drawings for the magazine, appearing in the sidelines or embroiled in the cartoon itself.
The Moomin characters brought together Jansson’s gifts as an artist with her fluency as a writer. She began writing stories about the Moomins during the war. As early as the 1930s she had drawn Moomin-like figures that were black and thin, with red eyes, whilst the Moomins we know today are rounder and friendlier in appearance.
An exhibition not to be missed. For more information visit dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. The show launches 25 October 2017 and runs until 28 January 2018.
Main image: Tove Jansson, Illustration for the book Moominland Midwinter, c. 1956, scrape drawing on cardboard, 13 x 18,5 cm, Private Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen