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“Family”, 1942, by Tove Jansson (private collection, photo: Finnish National Gallery/Hannu Altonen)

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) was one of the 20th century’s best-loved authors and illustrators, but an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery shows there was much more to her life and work than her signature creations, the Moomins. She painted throughout her life, and drew hundreds of satirical cartoons; many works are exhibited in the UK for the first time.

Her father Viktor was a sculptor; her mother Signe Hammarsten, also a graphic artist, designed more than 200 postage stamps for the Bank of Finland. They and her two younger brothers appear in the family portrait above; Per Olov, in uniform, Lars playing chess. In 1929 she started work at the satirical magazine Garm, staying with it until it closed in 1953, on the death of its founder and editor Henry Rein.


“Lynx Boa (Self-Portrait)”, 1942 (private collection. photo: Finnish National Gallery/Yehia Eweis)


She drew hundreds of cartoons for Garm, and once said that she liked nothing better than “being beastly to Stalin and Hitler”. In 1935 Tove drew a shop assistant telling a little girl that dolls no longer say “Mama”—they say “Heil Hitler”. Her cover  for October 1938 referenced the Munich Agreement and showed Hitler as a child, screaming for more cake (“Mer Kaka!”) as nervous adults present him with slices labelled with the names of European countries. The magazine came close to being charged with “insulting the head of a friendly state”. Jansson was subject to censorship: a cover for the November 1940 issue that showed Stalin drawing a large sword, only for it to detumesce before his eyes, was redrawn to depict a generic Russian soldier. (Finland and Russia were then in peace negotiations after the Winter War.)

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