You can’t help but think Tove Jansson might have preferred a quieter sort of exhibition. Solitude came naturally to the Finnish cartoonist and writer, less so the celebrity delivered by her globally beloved Moomin books. This reclusive tendency was best evidenced in the summer-long pilgrimages Jansson began making in her 50s to Klovharun, a tiny island in the Finnish archipelago that offered privacy and isolation in place of electricity and running water.
Nonetheless, Jansson’s Estate has decided to stage one of the largest exhibitions exploring her oeuvre and legacy in Paris—and during the hubbub of Paris Fashion Week and Art Basel Paris to boot. The location is not entirely incidental. In her 20s, Jansson studied painting in the city, ditching the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for a small studio and then trying, and largely failing, to gain recognition as a painter.
This makes “Houses of Tove Jansson,” set to run from September 29 through October 28, a homecoming of sorts, one that presents Jansson as far more than the quirky mind behind a lovable family of fairy-tale trolls.
Across the five floors of The Community, a Parisian art institution, visitors will meet all of Jansson: an artist who followed the currents of the 20th century in her Impressionist and Abstract paintings; a writer of novels, poems, and radio plays; and perhaps most importantly, a queer woman with a pacifist bent who bucked the norms and expectations of her era. It is, as Thomas Zambra, a great nephew who manages Jansson’s legacy, puts it, her whole life story. And yes, that includes the Moomin.
“We aim to keep her work alive and relevant, ensuring that her legacy continues to inspire and delight future generations,” Zambra told Artnet News. “We believe we can offer audiences a new way of seeing and experiencing her work.”
One aspect of this new approach has involved inviting contemporary artists including Emma Kohlmann, Ida Ekblad, and Vidya Gastaldon to create new work that engage Jansson’s aesthetic universes and ethos. The artists were selected by The Community and encouraged to create whatever they saw fit, trollish or otherwise.
The main focus, however, is the artistic trajectory of one of the most famous cartoonists in history, one that will satisfy newbies and die-hard fans alike. Born in Helsinki in 1914 to a father who worked as a sculptor and an illustrator mother, Jansson’s creativity was evident as a young child. This proclivity is on show in Paris, with early examples of her illustrated storybooks, some of which included fledgling versions of her amorphous trolls.
The range and quantity of Jansson’s work stands out. There are illustrations for children’s books, large-scale paintings, merchandise, sketches for opera, set design pieces for theater, and more besides. For visitors needing a breather, The Community has built a reading room holding not only Jansson’s best-known titles but also a recreation of her personal Helsinki library.
Fittingly, the exhibition devotes space to the archipelago in which Jansson spent her summers and presents objects from her everyday life including the handmade Moomin flag that flew above her Klovharun cottage. This recreation of physical spaces is the thinking behind the show’s name, the show’s curators Sini Rinne-Kanto and Tuukka Laurila told Artnet News. “We address the importance of different spaces to Tove Jansson, places she felt at home, such as on the island.”
See more images from the show below.