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Helsinki Winter Sale presents a collection of artworks by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson

– Life stories through painting

In spring 2021, Bukowskis sold the artwork Erottajanmäki by Tove Jansson for a world record price. We now present a collection of exquisite artworks by the artist in this autumn's Helsinki Winter Sale.

The late 1930s and the early 1940s were a period when Tove Jansson developed into a more independent and refined artist. In 1938 she made her first real study trip to Paris and Brittany, acquired an atelier of her own and participated in exhibitions for the first time. She moved from her parents' home in 1941 and held her first private exhibition in 1943. At the turn of the decade, the Winter War broke out, casting a shadow on Tove Jansson's life, both as an artist and as a private person. It was difficult to get art supplies, friends were being sent to the front, and an overall uncertainty left its mark on the general mood. Despite all of this, wartime was a productive period, and Jansson was able to sell many of her works. Narrativity and beauty are like cornerstones in the artist's production, and Erik Kruskopf describes how Tove Jansson created an idyllic, even serene image of life during those ponderous years. Explicit references to the war are rare in her art. It is no wonder that her works already then appealed to viewers, acting as a counterbalance to the heavy burden of the war.

› Tove Jansson, Self-portrait. Estimate 40 000 – 60 000 EUR.

Self-portraits have existed in art history since the Renaissance, an era when individualism and self-expression gained a new meaning on many fields, also in the profession of an artist. Tove Jansson started painting self-portraits when she was 14 years old; these included certain significant works from the late 1930s and the early 1940s, a significant period when the artist's identity strengthened. A characteristic feature for most of Tove's self-portraits is a grand and independent, slightly critical gaze. It is not unusual that the artist has pictured herself wearing a hat, such as in the self-portrait now being auctioned. Jansson has depicted herself wearing a hat in other works as well, such as the painting The Family from 1942.

› Tove Jansson, "Café interior". Estimate 30 000 – 40 000 EUR.

Cafe interior from 1939 conveys the atmosphere of a Parisian-style café and represents the storytelling, even playful side of the artist's character. In the painting, a stylish gentleman wearing a bowler hat sits alone by his glass, perhaps waiting for his acquaintances to arrive and joyful chatter to begin, maybe reminiscing the past. The painting was initially given by the artist herself and has remained in the same family thereafter.

› Tove Jansson, "Mäntymäki" (Helsinki). Estimate 25 000 – 35 000 EUR.

Helsinki is one of Tove Jansson's favourite wartime motifs. The artist wandered in the city's outskirts, combining elements from various places into partly realistic, partly fictional illustrations of the city. In Mäntymäki, the place is easily recognisable and quite realistic. The Helsinki Olympic Stadium, built in 1938, initially for the 1940 Summer Olympics, stands as a stylised yet recognisable silhouette in the background, accompanied by the chimney of a sugar factory that was later shut down. People are strolling by the shore of Töölönlahti bay, and trams are going by, and nothing in the landscape quite reveals there is an ongoing war, due to which the 1940 Summer Olympics were cancelled. The Helsinki Olympic Stadium, designed by architects Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti, could fulfil its original purpose ten years after the painting was created, in the 1952 Summer Olympics.

› Tove Jansson, View from Helsinki. Estimate 30 000 – 40 000 EUR.

Another depiction of Helsinki, which will be sold at the Helsinki Winter Sale, even depicts an imaginative cityscape. Instead of factual elements, the viewer focuses on two fast-paced figures in the city with the sun rising in the background.

By the 1950s, abstract art was inevitably arriving in the Finnish art field, if not entirely smoothly. Part of the artistic community approached abstract motifs through the ideals of concrete art, while some turned towards informalism. Tove Jansson's art also started to show informalistic features by the 1960s, but the development and change can already be seen in the more clearly figurative works of the 1950s. The elements of her works became more straightforward and distinct; details were no longer focal in the same manner as in the production of the two previous decades. In Stilleben with green background, the elements of the picture area are well-considered and explicit. The green background is built of colour fields and their correspondence with each other and the rest of the whole entirety, remaining peaceful background elements that are still substantial parts of the whole picture. The objects on the table are still recognisable but only a few steps away from the abstract appearance of the background, which focuses on colour and form.

According to Erik Kruskopf, Sigrid Schauman ended one of her critiques by stating that "she knows what she is doing and is apparently ready to pursue a new objective. Perhaps pure painting would be suitable for her," referring to the transition towards abstract art.

› Tove Jansson, "Stilleben with green backround". Estimate 25 000 – 35 000 EUR.

Tove Jansson was an artist who could create stories through the visual arts as well as in writing, and she had the ability to combine these two. Her art depicts what she has experienced and reflects stories where impressions and events are woven together into a perfect whole.

The collection will be sold at Helsinki Winter Sale, November 12−28.

Read more about Helsinki Winter Sale

For inquiries & condition reports Contact our category specialist

Laura Pohjola
Laura Pohjola
Head specialist Finnish modern and contemporary art
+358 (0)50 428 2146