Portrait from Diary, 1931

This cheerful self portrait draws you into the Stockholm night, as you accompany a young student on her way home. The girl’s very being exudes freedom and fearlessness. The colourful feminine touches are a bright contrast to the black city night. The carefree, whistling figure indulges in her right to walk alone through the night without fear – even though, on closer inspection, you can see that the young woman’s eyes are open unnaturally wide as she carefully scans her surroundings for danger.

The tumultuousness present in the painting also hints at Tove’s own great relief to be free of her scholarly obligations.

‘I’m a free young woman now, as school has closed its jaws behind me forever. And now I am starting to live,’ Tove wrote in May 1930.

In the autumn, she enrolled at the School of Applied Arts in Stockholm to study design and illustration for advertising. She later dreamed of applying to the Arts Academy. In the autumn of 1931, she continued at the School of Applied Arts following the printing and handicrafts route with studies in general illustration and illustration for advertising. Her courses included advanced drawing for applied arts professionals, lettering and heraldry, life drawing, decorative painting and book art.

Colour was already of great significance to Tove. Some feedback she received from head painting instructor Brandtberg also made a major impact on her.

‘Today, I was working on a tempera painting that really interests me. I was as angry as a wasp, naturally – I dreaded sneering critics, I was up to my ears in paints of all colours with tubes strewn about me in a three-metre radius, I was slogging away at top speed with my face all red and my nerves on edge – in short, that’s how I am when something interests me. Then Brandtberg came over. He stood behind me, just watching. I slumped, absent-mindedly licked my brush through nervousness and got a throat full of formalin. ‘Miss Jansson,’ Brandtberg said. ‘You use too much colour.’ Then he paused, before adding, ‘Apply to the Academy. You have what it takes.’ He said that and left. Now I’m so proud I almost feel miserable.’ (Diary entry, 1932.)