Exhibition: Tove Jansson at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Moomins have been having a moment of late.

First there was the Adventures in Moominland event at the Southbank Centre earlier this year, an immersive recreation of the books.

Now Dulwich Picture Gallery is hosting a definitive retrospective of their creator, the Finnish artist Tove Jansson, featuring 150 works from across her impressive career.

Baby exploring Tove Jansson exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery

I’ll admit I’m not really familiar with her quirky books, although a friend is such a fan, she gave her firstborn the middle name Tove in honour of the author-illustrator.

It took me two goes to take a proper look at this exhibition because Baby Bookworm was far from cooperative on our visits…

But I’m glad I persisted.

Because Tove was a fascinating woman – a feminist with a breadth of work much more than Moomins.

Self-portrait of artist Tove Jansson, called The Smoking Girl
The Smoking Girl, a self-portrait by Tove Jansson. Pictured courtesy of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Like Oliver Jeffers, she was a fine artist as well as an author, producing beautiful self-portraits, impressionistic landscapes and fairytale-like scenes.

She also held strong political views and ideas about social justice, creating anti-Hitler and Stalin covers for an anti-fascist Swedish-Finnish satirical magazine (sometimes featuring a tiny Moomin-like creature…).

Satirical images of Hitler on cover of Garm magazine, designed by Tove Jansson
One of the many covers of Garm magazine designed by Tove Jansson. Picture courtesy of Dulwich Picture Gallery

These two things combined to create the Moomins, a tribe of oddly shaped creatures a bit like hippos who live in the fairytale world of Moominvalley with a cast of friends.

Tove wrote nine books of their adventures, often influenced by her experiences in the Second World War as well as her bohemian family, who lived close to nature and were tolerant of diversity.

There were also five picture books and a comic strip. The stories explored her philosophies about life and did not shy away from complex themes like fear, bravery and threat.

The show includes plenty of her magical drawings from the series, along with Swedish language versions of classic books Alice In Wonderland and The Hobbit, which she illustrated.

Alice in Wonderland with the Caterpillar, illustrated by Tove Jansson
An illustration by Tove for the Swedish language version of Alice in Wonderland. Picture courtesy of Dulwich Picture Gallery.

While this is not really a show for little ones, Dulwich Picture Gallery has been hosting family-focused events to celebrate Tove’s work.

We attended an early opening for families last month, where there was a creative area for little ones to make their own artworks, a play house and crowns to craft.

Children and parents enjoying arts activities at Dulwich Picture Gallery
Children enjoying the Moomin-themed arts activities at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Baby wearing a homemade Moomin flower crown.
Baby Bookworm models his Moomin floral crown.

This weekend there is a (sadly sold out) Moomins-themed winter festival for families, with crafts, storytelling and music, plus Scandi food and drink.

But fear not, as Mini Masterpieces, the art sessions for under-threes (which we’d highly recommend) will celebrate all things Moomin on 18 January.

There’s also a quite glorious selection of Moomin-themed homeware, toys and books in the gift shop, which you can buy online too.

In the words of Moominpapa, “Oh, what happiness!”

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London until 28 January 2018. Adults £15.50, children free. Find out more at dulwichpicturegallery.co.uk

2 thoughts on “Exhibition: Tove Jansson at Dulwich Picture Gallery

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  1. The decidedly odd thing about the Moomin books, in my experience, is that they’re kind of liminal. Some are decidedly fit for children – like The Exploits of Moominpappa. But then Moominpappa at Sea and Moominvalley in November are anything but. Even though they’re clearly in the same continuity! Quirky, indeed. 🙂


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