Tove Jansson was a Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author best known as the creator of the Moomins. She received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1966 for her writing.
Jansson was born in 1914 in Helsinki, Grand Duchy of Finland which was then an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. Her parents were both artists, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson was a graphic designer and illustrator and her father, Viktor Jansson was a sculptor.
At the age of 14, Jansson wrote and illustrated her first picture book which would be published in 1933. She studied at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm from 1930–33. She then continued her education at the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in 1933–1937 before moving on to L’École d’Adrien Holy and L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1938. During this time, she began creating Moomintroll paintings and in 1943 her first ‘Moomin-like’ character was published in place of her signature in the magazine Garm. Jansson also produced a number of political cartoons for the magazine, including a depiction of Adolf Hitler as a crying baby which briefly brought her international recognition.
In 1945, Jansson’s first Moomin story entitled The Moons and the Great Flood was published by Söderström & Co in Swedish. It tells the story of Moominmamma’s and Moomintroll’s search for the missing Moominpappa and how they found their way to the Moominvalley. Jansson had written the story to try and lighten the depression that World War II had caused and felt that the best way to do this was to write something naive and innocent. It wasn’t until her next Moomin story was published that Jansson began to gain some recognition. Kometjakten / Mumintrollet på kometjakt / Kometen kommer (Comet in Moominland) published a year later, followed by Trollkarlens hatt (Finn Family Moomintroll) two years after that brought her fame. Jansson became Finland’s best known, and best read author outside of the country. In 1966, she received the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing for her contribution to children’s literature.
In 1954, Jansson was approached by the London Evening News with the suggestions that she draw a comic strip featuring the Moomins. From 1954 to 1959 Jansson created 21 long comic strips which were hugely successful. Her brother Lars then took over so she could devote herself to writing and painting. In addition to her work as an author, Jansson also exhibited artwork in a number of exhibitions during the 1930s and early 1940s, with her first solo exhibition held in 1943. She is noted for her contribution to LGBT literature, and lived for many years with her long term partner Tuulikki Pietilä, a graphic artist and professor who is said to have been the inspiration for the Moon character Too-ticky. Jansson said that she was able to explore her “spook side”, (which was Jansson’s term for lesbianism) with Pietilä. She had previously been briefly engaged to Atos Wirtanen who inspired the Snufkin character.
Jansson’s books have been translated into 45 languages, and are some of the most widely translated works of Finnish literature. Her work has also been adapted into several stage productions including a 1949 theatrical version of Comet in Moominland and a Moomin opera in 1974. To celebrate her achievements, there is a Moomin Museum in Tampere which houses a large number of her works on the Moomins and the theme park “Moomin World” in Naantali. Although Jansson died in 2001, interest in her work continues to grow and Moomin Characters, the company set up by Tove Jansson to deal with image rights (following her refusal to sell to Walt Disney), is one of the most profitable companies in Finland. In 2014 the Ateneum Art Museum opened a major centenary exhibition showcasing Jansson’s works as an artist, an illustrator, a political caricaturist and the creator of the Moomins. The exhibition drew nearly 300,000 visitors in six months. There is currently (2017) an exhibition of her work entitled Adventures in Moominland at the Southbank Centre in London, UK.