Tove Jansson’s unseen Moomin sketches to go on show in Paris

Exhibition focuses on life and career of ‘brave and uncompromising’ Finnish artist and writer

The Finnish artist and writer Tove Jansson wooed children the world over with her troll creations the Moomins, the central characters in a series of novels, short stories and comic strips.

A new exhibition in Paris is to reveal never publicly seen archive material from the late artist, including a number of Moomin sketches.

Houses of Tove Jansson will explore the personal life and prolific career of the artist and writer, who died in 2001 aged 86.

Jansson, who studied art and design in Sweden, Finland and Paris, began writing the Moomin series in 1945. The first book of adventures of the family of three white trolls with hippopotamus noses was not a success, but the second and third in the series brought her recognition. The characters were later turned into television series, featured in films and had their own theme parks.

She also wrote six novels, including Sommarboken (The Summer Book) and five books of short stories for adults as well as poems and plays for radio and theatre.

Tove Jansson: Landscape (picnic), 1930s, gouache.
Tove Jansson: Landscape (picnic), 1930s, gouache. Photograph: Hannu Aaltonen/Tove Jansson Estate

Although known primarily as a writer and illustrator, Jansson painted throughout her life, producing impressionist works in her early years and abstract modern paintings in later life.

In 1966, she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen medal for her body of work. Much of this was produced in her studio in Helsinki or her home on the small Finnish island of Klovharun.

Thomas Zambra, Jansson’s great nephew and a director at Moomin Characters, which manages her legacy, said the exhibition was unique in that it would take a comprehensive look at her personal life and career.

“She felt some of her work was overshadowed by the Moomins but in the last few years there has been renewed interest in her work as a painter, especially in the Nordic countries. This new interest in her artistry is fantastic to see and is something we are proud of,” Zambra said.

Jansson had relationships with men and women before meeting the love of her life, the engraver and artist Tuulikki Pietilä at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Finland.

“Tove was a very brave and uncompromising woman in the way she wanted to live both in her work and her personal life. Even though it was illegal she chose to live her whole life with another woman and to dedicate that life to work and art, choosing not to have children and become a mother,” Zambra said.

Tove Jansson: Girl smoking, 1940, oil.
Tove Jansson: Girl smoking, 1940, oil. Photograph: Hannu Aaltonen/Tove Jansson Estate

“We see the values that she stood for in that art – especially the Moomins – and the values that she respected – tolerance, equality, pacifism – are as relevant today as they were then. This is why her work remains popular with new generations.”

The exhibition will bring together works by other artists that influenced Jansson, as well as a selection of her paintings, drawings, illustrations and texts, some of which have never been seen before in public.

Tove and Moomins characters, undated and unnamed.
Tove and Moomins characters, undated and unnamed. Photograph: ©Moomin Characters

It will also feature contemporary artists chosen for work that can be directly or indirectly referenced to that of Jansson and a reading room with her work and her personal library.

“This exhibition is really Tove’s life story,” Zambra added.

Houses of Tove Jansson is at 16 Avenue Foch, 75016 Paris, from 29 September-28 October


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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