Tove Jansson (1914-2001)

Illustration by Lucy Key-Stratton

In the 72 years of their existence, the names Moomintroll, Snorkmaiden and Snufkin have come to overshadow that of their Finnish creator, Tove Jansson. Yet a new exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery seeks to redress this, establishing Jansson as an artist outside the fantastical world of Moominvalley. It introduces a true polymath, who worked across painting, theatre, novel-writing and opera, as well as cartoon and illustration, and may start in a surprising place for the hordes of families atthe gallery on a Saturday morning. A number of paintings, conspicuously Moomin-free, take clear influence from Munch, Gauguin, and Matisse, an influence gained during studies in Paris and Sweden, and extensive travels in Europe. The self-portraits and family depictions seen here reveal an artist struggling to find a style, which came so much easier in her illustrations and literature.

It’s not long, however, before the exhibition introduces her Moomin progeny. It’s a delight to see the inprogress illustrations up close – the collage, Tipp-Ex and tracing paper that lead the way to the final image. Painterly versions often sit alongside their graphic counterparts, an expression of