Imagine a child born in 1914 into a family living in an untroubled but cramped artist’s studio in Helsinki, Finland. Imagine an adventurous mother who left her clerical family and teaching post in Stockholm to live an illustrator’s life on the other side of the Baltic Sea. Now imagine a father, the first in his family to become an artist, who immediately started to sculpt his newborn daughter’s future.
Imagine Tove Jansson.
Tove Jansson’s destiny would be influenced by her parents’ unexpected life choices and the trail-blazing spirit of her time. Her mother’s illustrations and wild suffragist youth enveloped her, but she was also witness to her mother setting aside her own artistic ambitions to leave room for her father, who was a free artist, a rebellious soul, and an unquestioned authority as an artist.
Tove Jansson’s career was to span the twentieth century. Her earliest years, as a child, were shadowed by the Finnish Civil War, which erupted in the wake of the Russian Revolution. And as a young woman, she emerged from art school into the gathering clouds of the Second World War, when Finland was torn between Germany and the Soviet Union.
But in the years that follow, the gentle fantasy she conjures as an escape from the grief and devastation of war, will place her on a path to becoming a world famous artist and illustrator. She would write the eight much-loved Moomin novels and create a comic strip that would be syndicated in newspapers across the world. Tove Jansson would also paint, write short stories and novels, compose song lyrics, design stage scenes, and reply to every letter from readers that she received. She would make lifelong friends and colleagues and in her thirties find a partner for life.
Tove Jansson was an artist at heart; she made her first illustrations at the same time as she made her first steps. In her adult life, ‘Work and Love’(labora et amare) became her motto, and the words she proclaimed when she designed her own ex libris.
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