Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Tove Jansson

Tove (Christened Marinka) Jansson (1914-2001) is probably best known as the creator of the extraordinary world of the Moomins. Tove was born in the Finish Capital, Helsinki, the daughter of the Swedish illustrator Signe Hammarsten Jansson and the sculptor Viktor Jansson. Tove was the first of three children her brother, Per, was born in 1920, and her second brother, Lars, in 1926. The children enjoyed a happy and secure upbringing; their Mother and Father were both fun-loving people who enjoyed giving parties for their artist friends. Tove grew up knowing she wanted to become an artist and after studying art in Stockholm and Helsinki, she went on to Paris where she attended both the Ecole d'Adrien Holy, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts. 

During the late 1920s, Tove began working as a cartoonist and illustrator for the magazine, Garn. She continued to contribute to the magazine for the next 25 years, during which time she also worked for the magazine, Ny Tid. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Tove was considered to be one of the leading young artists in Finland, and her paintings began to appear in many exhibitions. She also had many showings of her own and her second exhibition in 1946, at the Bäcksbacka gallery, was a commercial success, and her works received critical acclaim. She also executed a number of important artistic commissions, including the frescos on the basement walls of Helsinki's City Hall, church altarpieces, a mural for the Town Hall at Hamina and paintings for the Union Bank of Finland.

In 1933, her first picture book 'Sara Och Pelle Och Neckens Blackfiskar' was published under the pen-name Vera Haij. Her short story Smatrollen Och Den Stora Oversvamningen (The little trolls and the great flood), begun in 1939, was published in 1945 under her own name. Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) published in 1946 was Tove's first full-length 'Moomin' book, and this was followed in 1948 by Trolkarlen's Hatt translated into English in 1950 as Finn Family Moomintroll. This soon became an international bestseller and in 1953, the Moomintrolls reached an ever wider audience when Tove was commissioned to produce a regular 'Moomin' comic. 

At the centre of the 'Moomin' family is Moominmamma, based on Tove's own mother, she is the traditional loving mother figure who rarely gets upset and takes even the most distressing circumstances (such as the arrival of a comet) in her stride. Her husband, Moominpappa, is a rather self-absorbed dreamer who is often engaged in writing his memoirs and is usually to be found wearing a top-hat. Moomintroll their young son is the main character in many of the stories. Other key characters include Moomintroll's best friend, Snufkin, an adventurer who lives in a tent and plays a harmonica, Little My who is determined and fiercely independent and so tiny that she fits easily into a pocket; and the Snork Maiden who looks exactly like Moomintroll except that she has a fringe.  
The 'Moomins' were inspired by stories of trolls told to Tove as a child and Moominvalley owes much of its rugged terrain to the coastline and tiny islands of the Gulf of Finland. The Jansson children enjoyed many happy summer holidays on a tiny island south of Porvoo and years later those holidays would play a large part in the 'Moomin' tales. 

In addition to her own books, Tove also illustrated Swedish translations of other classics such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lewis Carroll's the hunting of the Snark. Tove's artistic career was long and varied, but it is as the creator of the 'Moomins' that she is internationally known. The stories have been translated into more than 30 languages, and been dramatised for theatre, opera, film, radio and television.

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