Family, 1941

Family is both a self portrait and a portrait of Tove’s relationship with her family during the war. The war had separated the family and continued to keep them apart – Tove’s fear and worry for her brother on the frontline is reflected in the composition. Tove has depicted herself as an observer, a central figure watching over her family. The chess game her brothers are playing is a powerful symbol of a war between men. The war is splitting up the family and is increasing the gulf between Tove and Faffan. Political disagreements combined with Faffan’s patriotism and authoritarian attitude had strained the father-daughter relationship.

Although the painting is a self portrait of Tove at the centre of her family during the difficult war years, it is also a portrait of any family touched by war. And it also includes allusions for the art historian: the chess-playing brothers in particular are a reference to Swedish artist Albertus Pictor. His 15th-century painting shows the Grim Reaper playing chess with a knight.

In the spring of 1942, Tove wrote to her friend Eva, ‘While I’m painting, at regular – and such brief – intervals, I hear gun salutes from the cemetery and they send cold shivers down my spine. The Collins have lost their son, like so many of our friends. Home is like a silent mine shaft, with everyone locked away with their own thoughts.’

Family was shown at a spring exhibition in 1942 – and received reserved reviews. The subject was, however, very close to Tove’s heart and she repainted Family in 1944. Tove threw herself into her work during the war years – it was an antidote to the pain of difficult times. A busy work schedule – painting by day and illustration assignments by night – also generated results. Tove developed and made a name for herself during the war years. She also actively took part in exhibitions and viewings. In spite of the war – and partly because of it – the art trade was brisk: the value of money was fluctuating, which made art a good investment. Tove sold plenty of paintings and, at least in her own estimation, made good money from them. However, the tension between her drawing and painting constantly niggled her.

‘I feel like an ink machine,” she wrote to her friend Eva.