There’s more to Finnish artist Tove Jansson than creating the Moomins

The life of Moomin author and illustrator – and her largely unknown breadth of work – is celebrated at the Dulwich Picture Theatre this month.


With a brand new Moomin animated television series on its way, it seems only apt that Dulwich Picture Theatre is celebrating the life of the Moomins creator, Tove Jansson with an exhibition open to the public from tomorrow.

Tove is known for her internationally loved Moomin characters and books, which remain as popular culture icons. But Tove was more than just the creator of the Moomins – she was a graphic illustrator and painter of many things – lots of which were often unseen outside her home country of Finland.

Dulwich Picture Gallery seeks to explore her wide-ranging talent through showcasing 150 works created throughout her life, including a selection of self-portraits and paintings never seen before in the UK, reinstating Tove as an artist of "exceptional breadth and talent".

The exhibition will run until January 28, with a weekend in December dedicated to her Moomin characters. Tickets are still available. The exhibition has been curated by Sointu Fritze, chief curator of exhibitions at The Finnish National Gallery.

All illustrations in this feature are by Tove Jansson herself. 

Image: The Smoking Girl

Tove was born the year of World War I, in 1914, in the Finnish capital Helsinki. In the midst of mass bombings of Helsinki in 1944 (World War II), Tove managed to attain an attic studio in the centre of Helsinki (seen here, photographed by Per Olov), which became her "cherished home", and of which she finisher her first story featuring Moomintroll.


The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945) was the first volume in the series that was to become the best-known part of her career as an artist, but also as a writer Tove didn’t want the success of Moomins to limit her creative freedom. After Moominvalley in November 1970, it was time for something different.

Image: Illustration for the book Comet in Moominland

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The world recognised Tove as a short story writer with her collection The Listener in 1971, although she had published Sculptor’s Daughter, a childhood description, for adults previous to this.

Although much of Tove’s iconic work was born out of her studio in Helsinki, she loved the ocean and archipelago, and spent many summers on the tiny island of Klovharu in the Gulf of Finland. Tove died in 2001.

Image: Tove Jansson photographed by Per Olov


Separately, Finnish production company Gutsy Animations is helping to bring the adventures of Moomin to a new generation with a new animated television series called moominvalley.

Beautiful painterly-style concept art and the voice cast have already been announced, including Rosamund Pike and Kate Winslet. You can read our interview with the Moominvalley creators here.

Read on to see more of Tove Jansson's rarely seen work. 


Image: Lynx Boa (self portrait)

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Image: Family (1942)


Image: Mysterious Land (1930)


Image: Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

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Image: Self Portrait (1975)


Image: Abstract Sea (1963)


Garm was a Finnish satire magazine that ran from 1923 to 1953, which also facilitated the imagination and wit of Tove’s. Her cover illustrations would even feature Moomin characters from the 1940s. Tove began drawing more than 500 caricatures for the magazine since the age of 15 in 1929 (her mother had worked for the publication since it started), more than 100 cover images and countless other illustrations for the magazine.

The magazine took a stand against political issues using satire, and fascism in all forms were regularly covered.

Image: Garm Moomin cover 

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“Since Nazism and Communism often were targets, Tove’s illustrations came under scrutiny and even censorship. But she was undeterred and continued taking on controversial domestic and international matters in her work. Tove has even said that she found it fun to be able to be 'swinish towards Hitler and Stalin'," the official Moomin website explains. 

The magazine closed in 1953 after its founder Henry Rein passed away. 

Image: Garm cover No. 10 (1938)