First UK retrospective of Tove Jansson set for Autumn 2017

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First UK retrospective of Tove Jansson set for Autumn 2017
Tove Jansson, Abstract Sea, 1963, Oil, 73 x 100cm, Private Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

LONDON.- In Autumn 2017 Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first major UK exhibition of work by one of the most celebrated illustrators of the 20th century, Tove Jansson. Known internationally as creator of the Moomin characters and books, a phenomenon which continues to stretch across generations, Jansson’s wider outputs of graphic illustration and painting are relatively unseen outside her home country of Finland.

The exhibition will bring together 150 works, including a large body of self-portraits, landscapes and still-lifes never seen before in the UK and a series of Moomin drawings only this year discovered at the British Cartoon Archive. Arranged thematically the show will reintroduce Jansson as an artist of exceptional breadth and talent, tracing the key stages of her prolific career including her surrealist-inspired paintings of the 1930s and abstract works of the ‘60s, her satirical anti-war cartoons and book jacket designs, as well as her original Moomin illustrations and comic strips.

Jansson produced a rapid succession of self-portraits during the 1930s and 40s as she sought her identity as an artist. A key selection will run as a powerful motif in the show, allowing us to interpret the emotional climate of the different stages of her life. The Smoking Girl, 1940 shows Jansson as defiant and challenging, though the war years would prove the toughest period in Jansson’s life and, with it very much on her mind, the cigarette break depicts a moment of deep concentration. Two years later, Jansson painted Lynx Boa, in which her expression is softer and calmer, yet full of courage and self-esteem.

Sophia Jansson, creative director of Moomin Characters and Tove Jansson’s niece, said: “It was hugely important to Tove that she be recognised as a talented fine artist in addition to being the creator of the Moomins. Balancing her painting and her other projects alongside the demands that the Moomins made of her was something she struggled with all her life. I’m delighted that Dulwich Picture Gallery is putting on this exhibition which will make Tove’s wider artistic output accessible to a UK audience, who may not yet be familiar with her work outside of Moominvalley.”

During her first decades as an artist, Jansson produced an astonishing variety of illustrations. At the young age of 15, her already formidable talent for caricature caught the attention of the liberal political satire magazine, Garm, and she went on to draw more than 500 caricatures and 100 cover images for them. In contrast to her paintings, Jansson eagerly captured the ravages of war in her illustrations, employing them to such an extent that the political cartoons she published openly under her own name were quite daring. A display of illustrations will reveal Jansson’s boldness and staunch opposition to war, fascism and totalitarianism.

Illustrating for Garm provided Jansson with the experimental space to introduce the first resemblance of Moomintroll who appeared as the long snouted troll, ‘Snork’ in 1943. He would have frequent cameo appearances in her future drawings for the magazine, appearing in the sidelines or embroiled in the cartoon itself.

The Moomin characters brought together Jansson’s gifts as an artist with her fluency as a writer. A display of original book illustrations for the series along with comic strips for the Finnish magazine, Ny Tid and the widely read, The Evening News will provide an insight into the genesis of the Moomin phenomenon. It will also highlight key influences on the subject and development of Jansson’s illustrations including her experience of the war and the Jansson family dynamic.

Sointu Fritze, curator of the exhibition, said: “In Europe and the world today, Tove’s art and stories are more relevant than ever. Her entire oeuvre and way of thinking are characterised by the acceptance of differences. Although the family circle – both the artist’s own and the fictional Moomin family – is central, the door is always open for those seeking shelter. Tove Jansson’s works convey a profound understanding of human diversity. This show will reveal fascinating new insights into a colourful life and the work that came out of it.”

Ultimately, Jansson’s most enduring desire was to be an artist and the exhibition will reveal the unwavering passion that kept her working and exhibiting as an accomplished fine artist alongside a career in graphic illustration.

The exhibition is organised in collaboration with Ateneum Art Museum. It is curated by Sointu Fritze, Chief Curator, Ateneum art Museum, Helsinki. Loans come from public and private collections with a large selection from Tampere Art Museum’s Moominvalley.

A full colour catalogue will accompany opening up new and fascinating perspectives on Jansson’s life and work. Essays have been written by renowned Tove Jansson experts Tuula Karjalainen, Boel Westin, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Paul Gravett.

Tove Jansson (1914 – 2001) follows in the footsteps of similar exhibitions at Dulwich Picture Gallery, such as Quentin Blake, Beatrix Potter and Saul Steinberg, which pay particular attention to the incredible body of work that exists alongside the illustrations that made them household names.

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