Tove’s 1935 painting The Hermit is also a self portrait. A hermit’s life revolves around nonconformity and being different – but difference does not mean anxiety, it signifies the seer’s role, freedom to take an independent view. The hermit in the painting is watching others’ togetherness and joy with interest. There is also intensity and excitement in the way the hermit seems deeply engrossed in the scene, and Tove’s later musings on the essence of art describe this well.
‘You try to express yourself and your insights, to create syntheses, to explain, to set free. Every nature morte, every landscape, every painting is a self portrait!’
In a change to her earlier plans, Tove did not apply to the Arts Academy, but returned to her family at the Lallukka Artists’ Home in May 1933. She continued her studies in the painters’ class at the Ateneum (the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts). Tove still found it hard to adapt herself to established forms: she broke off her studies many times, while the majority of her fellow women students dropped out completely.
Tove’s own artistic views were in complete disagreement with the ideals of William Lönnberg, the Graphic School’s director. The difficulties that Tove had previously encountered – with fitting in, studying mandatory subjects and following set rules – once again came to a head at the Ateneum. Ever since she was a child, Tove had always considered herself to be first and foremost an artist and a drawer. However, restrictive, gender-based rules became glaringly evident in the Ateneum’s painting class. By autumn 1935, numerous female students had already dropped out, leaving only Tove, Eva Cederström and six young men. Their class’s December exhibition revealed the glass ceiling that threatened the careers of all women artists.
‘My pictures were hung very low down, and I know it wasn’t a reflection of my artistic abilities. I know that I have the skills, even though my talent is still in my heart rather than in my mind. I have to get out of the Ateneum, it’s of no help to me,” she wrote on 13 December 1935.
In January 1936, Tove and her fellow students rebelled against Lönnberg, the director, and left the school and founded an artists’ collective. The seeds of Tove’s rebellion may have been sown by the freedom-hungry artistic ideals of Faffan’s youth, and also by his friend, the sculptor Felix Nylund, who in September 1935 said, ‘Damn it girl, you shouldn’t go to school if you have talent!’
In 1935, love blossomed between Tove and the artist Sam Vanni, who had become a teacher, mentor and role model. Sam Vanni also painted a portrait of Tove.
‘As twilight draws in, Samuel lays his brush aside and, with a joy that is painful, I look at his painting and say to myself that it wouldn’t be so beautiful if he didn’t love me,’ Tove wrote.
A little later, it was Tove’s turn to draw an excellent portrait of Sam Vanni (the charcoal drawing Samuel from 1939). Tove and Sam’s relationship was a union of love and art, but one that Tove didn’t want to tell her parents about. They were shocked when they found out.
Tove’s diary entry for 15 May 1937 reads, ‘Finished with the Ateneum.’
During her time at the Ateneum, Tove began to establish a career as a graphic artist, illustrator and painter. She was accepted into associations – the Graphic Artists’ Association in 1935 and the Artists’ Association of Finland in 1937. In 1939, ten of her pieces were included in the Young Artists’ Exhibition and were critically well received.