Beyond the Moomins: Tove Jansson's art gets major UK exhibition

London show will feature newly-found work from Finnish artist popularly known for her hippo-like valley-dwellers

Newly discovered artwork by the Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson which was sitting uncatalogued and unrecognised at the British Cartoon Archive is to go on display next year at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Jansson is best known for her blobby superstars the Moomins, who became so much more famous than their creator that they decorated the tail fins of Finnish planes, and even the wristwatch of former president Tarja Halonen.

A major retrospective of her art will feature newly discovered artwork for the strip cartoon of the Moomins, found in a mass of material sent for storage by the defunct London Evening News paper, which had serialised her work for years.

The exhibition will showcase her as a serious artist as well as an illustrator, including self-portraits, landscapes, and her work for the Finnish satirical magazine Garm, which first accepted her work when she was just 15. She went on to create hundreds of illustrations and cartoons for the magazine, including more than 100 covers, which in the war years often featured caricatures of Adolf Hitler and other instantly recognisable Nazi figures.

Tove Jansson.
Tove Jansson. Photograph: Hans Paul/AFP

One of the hippo-like Moomins, who hibernate through the winter and wake up as the snow melts in their idyllic valley, made a first appearance in a cameo role in Garm in 1943. The first Moomins book was published in 1945, and they became famous across the world from magazines, books, and television programmes including a 104-part Japanese animated version.

Jansson, who died in 2001, was born into a family of artists in Helsinki in 1914. Her family was closely involved in her work and has kept control of the Moomins – once turning down an offer from Disney for the rights.

Her niece Sophia Jansson, now creative director of the Moomins, said she was delighted the gallery would now show the full range of her work in the exhibition opening in October 2017. “It was hugely important to Tove that she be recognised as a talented fine artist in addition to being creator of the Moomins,” she said. “Balancing her painting and her other projects alongside the demands that the Moomins made of her was something she struggled with all her life.”

Sointu Fritze, chief curator at the Ateneum museum in Helsinki and lead curator for the exhibition at Dulwich, said Jansson’s art and stories were very relevant for Europe today. “Her entire oeuvre and way of thinking are characterised by the acceptance of differences,” Fritze said. “Although the family circle – both the artist’s own and the fictional Moomin family – is central, the door is always open for those seeking shelter.”

The exhibition will be at the Dulwich gallery in south-east London from 25 October 2017 to 28 January 2018.

• This article was amended on 21 October 2016 to recognise that, although the first major retrospective in the UK, the Dulwich show is not the first UK exhibition of Tove Jansson’s art.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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