Moomin Self Portrait, 1957

The customary approach has been to seek similarities between the members of the Moomin family and the Jansson family. The composition of this picture, in which Tove the author appears in the family portrait alongside the Moominvalley residents, adds weight to that notion. Although the earliest versions of the Moomins date from the 1930s, the first Moomin book was not published until 1946, after which new Moomin books came out tick and fast. Moomin spin-offs had already begun to take on lives of their own by the 1950s, and the Moomin market snowballed. The Stockmann department store in Helsinki and the NK department store in Stockholm sold an extensive range of Moomin merchandise: plush toys, wallpapers, pens, wastepaper baskets, brooches, ties, and so on. In 1957, NK even opened a dedicated Moomin department. Tove’s English-language comic strip publishers demanded a fast pace of production and she began to feel that they were holding her too tightly in their clutches.

By the late 1950s, Tove’s notes reveal her frustration and anxiety towards the Moomin phenomenon, which she felt was running out of control.

‘I’ve poured out my feelings into Moomintroll, but he’s changing. I no longer feel safe in my secret cave – it’s trapping me inside.’

The greatest conflict the Moomins caused was to Tove’s professional identity, as their immense popularity began to sideline her career as an artist. Working on the Moomins and associated contracts took more and more of Tove’s time. Even though she always claimed that she was first and foremost a painter, fewer and fewer opportunities for solo exhibitions came her way and she was now increasingly referred to as simply ‘the Mother of the Moomins’.

Still, the Moomins brought Tove worldwide fame and adoration – she became a real superstar in the 1950s. The phenomenon also spawned a great deal of fan mail and, out of loyalty to her readers, Tove personally replied to their letters for many years, even though it took an immense amount of time.

‘Leaving them unanswered disturbs my work far more than replying,’ she wrote.

Tove also kept careful archives to help keep the burgeoning flood of letters in order. She put together several notebooks containing answers to frequently asked questions, such as ‘How did you get the idea for Moomintroll?’ One heavily ironic note in particular reveals a lot about the conflict Moomintroll’s fame was causing Tove as a fine artist.

‘He is the only one whom it didn’t take me great pains to create, he is the only one that you like. And that’s right and proper.’