A fearless artist in constant renewal – Tove Jansson exhibition in Oslo by The Norwegian Drawing Center
Tove Jansson was an artist who sought constant renewal. She did not limit herself to a certain expression – not even when she found an art form that would have been in demand for a long time. This is particularly evident in the Tove exhibition at Tegnerforbundet, The Norwegian Drawing Center, Oslo, during Summer 2023. “What makes Tove unique is that she masters so many different genres and does it to perfection,” summarises Lene Fjørtoft, one of the curators of the exhibition.
Tove is the first solo exhibition of Tove Jansson’s work in Norway and it highlights other aspects of Jansson’s work than the Moomin illustrations she became known for.
The exhibition is curated by Lene Fjørtoft and Hilde Lunde, who have spent the last year delving into Tove Jansson’s art and life.
Tove Jansson always sought new ways of expression
“What makes Tove unique is that she masters so many different genres and does it to perfection. She is brilliant as a writer, as an illustrator, and as a painter. She wasn’t just good at one thing. She’s very fearless, she took on new projects all the time, she didn’t stop when she found something she was good at, and she kept creating new things in new genres. I think that many artists who have worked for 50 years and found their form continue with what they know works, what is well received by the audience. It says a lot about her personality that she just went ahead and sought new expressions all the time”, says Fjørtoft.
Lunde adds, “She is also so universal and timeless, not only in what she stood for as a person and how she lived, but also her art and her books and the whole Moomin world she created,” says Lunde.
“She reaches a large international audience and new generations all the time and manages to appeal to so many different cultures, which is exceptional.”
The thirst for freedom is evident at the Tove Jansson exhibition in Oslo
Tegnerforbundet’s Tove Jansson exhibition in Oslo also highlights an artist who thirsted for freedom in all its forms. The curators also highlight themes such as courage as central to the artist’s work.
How would you describe Tove’s style?
“Thematically, it seems that freedom is a theme in all her art forms, the freedom of the individual, the right to be oneself. We see this in her self-portraits, in her illustrations and in her writing”, says Fjørtoft.
It’s impossible to say one thing, everything about Tove is surprising!
Lunde continues, “…And as a woman, she was brave if you think about how she presented herself in the late self-portraits, which became more raw and vulnerable and unfiltered. She dared to show that you get older. I probably wouldn’t have walked around our exhibition and thought: ah, that’s Tove Jansson. And that’s what’s so fun, that we get to show several sides of her that you didn’t know about. Then you can be surprised and recognise something in what you have read or seen about Moomin.”
“It’s very difficult to put Tove Jansson’s art in a box and say that she works this way or that, even though we often want an artist to fit into a template, but she doesn’t want that either,” says Fjørtoft.
Family in focus
Just over a year ago, the curators gained access to Tove Jansson’s archive by Moomin Characters. After a lot of digging around, they decided to focus the exhibition on Tove’s self-portraits and also thematically explore the importance of the family in Tove’s work.
“Thematically, it is interesting to see how the family worked together and what expectations were placed on Tove from home, probably expectations that stayed with her throughout her life. We were also very fascinated by Tove’s mother Signe “Ham” Hammarsten Jansson, it was overwhelming to see her drawings. She was completely unknown as an artist to me, I had never seen a work by her. Her drawings are absolutely amazing, she is an incredibly talented artist”, says Fjørtoft.
Mother Ham is important to Tove Jansson’s oeuvre
“We also want to say that we really think that Ham deserves her own exhibition!”, Lunde adds.
Fjørtoft continues: “Art historians like to talk about artists as lone geniuses standing in the middle of the storm, the artist against society. This is not the reality. Artists often work in a collective, in artistic cooperation with others. And for the entire Jansson family, this is clear. The relationship between Tove and Ham, in particular, illustrates this. Ham was not only Tove’s teacher, but she also shared contacts so that Tove got jobs at an early age, which had a huge impact on Tove’s conditions for living as an artist. Ham showed that it is possible to have an income as an artist”.
Raw self-portrait breaks with the norm
When asked if they have a favourite work in the exhibition, Fjørtoft and Lunde agree:
“By familiarising myself with Tove’s work and reading about her, I have become very fond of her self-portrait from 1975. It is so raw, she removes all traces of idealisation and embellishment. It’s brave and breaks with the norm in the tradition of self-portraits”, says Fjørtoft and is supported by Lunde.
“The work really shines, the energy in it and the way she used the brush just radiates energy from the work. It’s like the work says “Here I am. Take it or leave it!”
The curators see clear reasons why Tove Jansson seems to have become so fond of painting self-portraits, which she did throughout her long career in the visual arts.
“Making a self-portrait is easy because the model is available, but at the same time, it is one of the most difficult things to master artistically. It’s a combination that I think suited Tove’s temperament very well. If you want to make a good self-portrait, you have to know who you are, and she knew that,” says Fjørtoft.
Tove Jansson exhibition in Oslo features over 50 works
The exhibition features self-portraits, drawings, sketches and books Tove Jansson wrote as a child, illustrations from the satirical magazine GARM and oil paintings – over 50 works in total. The works represent the family, travel sketches, illustrations, commissions and imaginative doodles. Did the curators learn anything surprising about Tove from working on the exhibition?
“It’s an incredible honour to work with Tove Jansson’s art because she’s so big, her oeuvre is so vast,” says Fjørtoft. “It’s impossible to say one thing, everything about Tove is surprising!”
Want to stay updated about the latest news and events – such as interesting exhibitions – around Tove Jansson? Sign up for the quarterly Tove Jansson newsletter!
Explore all current Tove Jansson and Moomin exhibitions here.