18 September 2018

Self-portrait by Tove Jansson’s mother reflects the time that made Tove assess the role of women

Tove Jansson’s mother, Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, had a huge influence on her daughter’s career – the importance was remarkable. In her mother’s arms, Tove learned how to draw, even before she learned to walk.

Ham, as everyone called Tove’s mother, worked as an illustrator and drawer. Among her numerous different illustration projects, she, for example, designed banknotes for the Bank of Finland and also designed all the Finnish postage stamps during 1929-1962. In her mother’s guidance, the soon becoming artist Tove got a natural relationship for drawing and art. Tove was used to seeing her mother drawing day after day, hour after hour, whether it was illustrations for books, magazines, book covers, stamps or something else.

In Jansson family, also father Viktor “Faffan”, was an artist. At the time, usually, there wasn’t space for two artists in one family. Women were the ones looking after children and running the household while men made the art. Also, the wives were usually the ones in paid employment and taking the financial responsibility of the family. This was the situation also in the Jansson family.

Self-portrait by Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, 1917

Ham lived primarily for her family. Ham portrays her life and women’s role in the 1910s in this skillfully illustrated self-portrait with the shopping bag and a child. In this picture, the child is her daughter, Tove.

The role of women and the appreciation of their work were usually totally underrated. Besides Ham had a strong impact on Tove’s artistic career, Tove’s experiences on the daily life of her own family made her assess women’s role for example in marriage.

In the Moomin stories, the equality has a big role. Despite your gender, race, religion, or sexuality, everyone deserves to be heard and appreciated. The ability to choose your own paths, as well as individual freedom, were often highlighted in the Moomin books and comics. These were personally important values for Tove Jansson – based on her own experiences.

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