Moomins on display in HAM’s monumental Tove Jansson exhibition

A major exhibition featuring Tove Jansson's monumental murals will open at HAM, the Helsinki Art Museum, in October. The exhibition, Tove Jansson – Paradise, will dive into the artist's large-scale works and her creative process, including charcoal drawings and other sketches that have never been displayed publicly before.

Tove Jansson‘s commissioned works for public spaces are among the least known of her oeuvre. The HAM exhibition will give them the attention they deserve. 

Tove Jansson executed many of her public paintings in various buildings in her hometown of Helsinki, including the Tullinpuomi house, the Apollonkatu girls’ school, the Strömberg factory, the Domus Academica student residence and the children’s ward of the Aurora Hospital, as well as the restaurant of Helsinki City Hall, which opened in 1947. The HAM exhibition presents the full range of Jansson’s mural production, from smaller decorative paintings to monumental works.

Never-before-seen charcoal drawings

Tove Jansson – Paradise presents Jansson’s ambitious public works on an unprecedented scale. Spread over two floors, the exhibition includes finished works, sketches and large-scale working drawings. 

“The exhibition will give visitors an insight into Jansson’s extensive public painting output in its entirety and the painting techniques she used,” says Heli Harni, curator of the exhibition and HAM Helsinki Art Museum’s assistant curator. 

Tove Jansson HAM
Tove Jansson: sketch for Bird Blue, 1953. © Tove Jansson Estate. Photo: HAM / Kirsi Halkola.

The artist’s charcoal drawings, the same size as the finished murals, have never been exhibited before. Many of the drawings have been unrolled for the first time for the HAM exhibition. 

Tove Jansson HAM
Unrolling of Tove Jansson’s preparatory charcoal studies at HAM: sketch for Fairytale panorama, 1949. © Tove Jansson Estate. Photo: HAM / Maija Toivanen.

Tove Jansson painted her ambitious public works over a period of more than ten years, from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s. This was a period of intense creative activity for the artist, including her first solo exhibitions and the publication of her first Moomin books.

The Moomins in the murals

Tove Jansson used moomintrolls as her trademark in several of her monumental works, including Party in the City and Party in the Countryside, which she painted in the restaurant of Helsinki City Hall. “Jansson painted Moomins as kind of an alter ego, or as a pseudonym. This resembled what she did a few years earlier, when she began to draw Moomins in her illustrations for the satirical magazine Garm,” says curator Heli Harni. Moomin-like characters also appear, for example, in the sea-themed murals in the Seurahuone hotel in Hamina in 1952.

Tove Jansson HAM
Tove Jansson herself and a little Moomintroll in Party in the City fresco.

Heli Harni explains how Jansson painted Moomins for large-scale commissions, not only in restaurants and offices for adults, but also in public spaces for children and young people. The child audience got to enjoy the most complete cavalcade of Moomin characters in a kindergarten, a school, and at a children’s hospital.

The Moomins were the focal point of the mural for the staircase and operating room of the new children’s ward building at Aurora Hospital, which Jansson was commissioned to paint after winning a competition organized by the City of Helsinki in 1955.

In the catalogue for the exhibition opening in October, Johanna Ruohonen, PhD, quotes the Helsinki Art Committee’s art competition working Group’s summary of the purpose of the mural: “The painting on the wall of the building’s stairwell should be able to fully capture the children’s interest so that they don’t have time to think about being in a hospital. The work should also be of such a nature that a child in the hall wants to climb the stairs to see what images might be upstairs. In this way, the child would not even notice that they have moved to another floor.”

Tove Jansson HAM
Play, Tove Jansson. Photo: HAM / Hanna Kukorelli

In “Lek” (Play), the work featured in the hospital staircase, a group of Moomin characters, including Snufkin, Sniff, Snorkmaiden, the Fillyonk, Moominmamma and Moominpappa, together with other fairy-tale characters, scramble up the stairs.

Ruohonen also quotes the hospital director, Paavo Heiniö, who points out that art has a therapeutic function in the hospital: “directing the interest of small patients to things other than medical treatment has a positive effect on their recovery.”

The HAM exhibition opens Moomin 80 anniversary year

The exhibition also celebrates the 80th Moomin anniversary. The 80th anniversary of the publication of The Moomins and the Great Flood (Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen) will be celebrated in 2025 with a number of events. 

The exhibition Tove Jansson – Paradise will be open at the HAM Helsinki Art Museum from 25.10.2024 to 6.4.2025. The exhibition is produced in collaboration with Moomin Characters.

Tove Jansson HAM


History of the Helsinki Art Museum – the name refers to Tove Jansson’s mother

The Helsinki Art Museum opened its doors in September 2015 after a renovation. HAM is an abbreviation of Helsinki Art Museum, but it also includes a reference to Tove Jansson’s mother, Signe “Ham” Hammarsten Jansson. 

In January 2016, the museum opened Finland’s first permanent gallery dedicated to Tove Jansson’s art. At the same time, two large frescoes, Party in the City and Party in the Countryside, were installed in the art museum’s premises in Tennispalatsi. These large murals were commissioned by the City of Helsinki in 1947 for the Helsinki City Hall. In 1974, these large frescoes, created in metal frames, were moved to Arbis, the Swedish-language workers’ college in Helsinki, and in 2014, the art museum Ateneum loaned the paintings for Tove Jansson’s 100th anniversary exhibition. In January 2016, after a thorough restoration, the original works were permanently moved to the museum premises at HAM to ensure that they remain in good condition.

Tove Jansson HAM Party in the Countryside
Party in the Countryside, Tove Jansson. Photo: HAM / Maija Toivanen


Cover photo: Tove Jansson: Bird Blue, 1953. © Tove Jansson Estate. Photographer: HAM / Maija Toivanen.