Self Portrait, 1930

The Great Depression of the early 1930s made a career in the arts difficult, and there were very few opportunities for young artists to show their work. This self-portrait from 1930 was the first of Tove’s artworks to be shown in a public exhibition. In a way, this charcoal drawing brings Tove’s career as a fine artist full circle, as it was present at both her very first exhibition (The Humorists, 1933) and her last exhibition of new work in 1975.

‘I’m working’ is an oft-repeated phrase in Tove’s diary, even at a young age. ‘Working’ meant the whole gamut of activities from drawing itself to seeking new ideas. Everything Tove did was guided by passion – and joy. She was only fourteen when her first illustrations were published in papers. Her first picture book came out in 1933, the same year she took part in her first exhibition. Growing up in an artistic household had given her a very intense approach to work.

‘Only passion – hope and joy – can be honest. Nothing I’ve been forced to do has ever brought joy to me or those around me,” she wrote in April 1955.

Self portraits, diaries and letters were a natural way for Tove to record the various stages of her life – she never wrote an official autobiography. Tove produced a rapid succession of self portraits during the 1930s and 1940s, as she sought her identity as an artist.

In 2007, after Tove Jansson’s death, Professor Boel Westin published a biography called Kuvat, sanat, elämä (Pictures, Words, Life), which sheds light on Tove’s life and artistic career through her letters, diary entries and diverse oeuvre.