IN SEARCH OF TOVE (PART 1) – REFLECTIONS ON HELSINKI
We arrived in Helsinki in early July; like a lot of Europe, the summer was uncharacteristically hot, which meant we had no need of a trip to the ubiquitous saunas around town.
Tove Jansson grew up in the Finnish capital in an artistic melting pot. Her mother an illustrator and father a sculptor, I guess it was almost inevitable that she would pursue an artistic career too. I have loved her paintings, drawings and her writing for many years and feel a very strong connection to much of her work. Her observations of people and nature are searingly accurate.
We came to Finland to pick up some of the atmosphere that Tove would have experienced, to go to see the works in the Ateneum where she studied and finally to go to the small island of Klovharun where she lived in beautiful isolation with only her partner Tuuliki for company.
It’s easy enough to find echoes and traces of Tove in Helsinki. The house where she grew up is next to the park (now named after her) where she played as a child.
The city is full of sculptures and several by Tove’s father Viktor take Tove as the model. His sculpture ‘Convulvulous’’ in Kaisaniemi Park refers to ’field bindweed, a thread of life’, symbolising the age-old bond between nature and femininity…or so the guide books tell us.
Tove was the model for this sculpture – she raises her hand partly for protection, but also at the same time gesturing a sign of blessing apparently.
Sadly it seemed she would have been better having eyes in the back of her head to protect herself.
When will it stop I asked myself.
Perhaps the best treat in Helsinki was to visit HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) and see the beautiful murals that Tove produced.
These were the first major commission of her career from the electromechanical company Oy Strömberg Ab in 1945.
I particularly enjoyed seeing that Tove included herself smoking in the front of the picture and just behind her, Vivica Bandler (her lover at the time) dances with a frock-coated gentleman. Oh the arrogant tilt of the cigarette. If you look closely, next to Tove’s wine glass you can even find a little early Moomintroll.
The sea features significantly in Tove’s books and when you visit Finland you understand why.
You are never very far from water and it was a relief from the heat to take a cruise around Helsinki harbour and the little skerries…spotting an island with a restaurant on it I wondered if that was the setting for ‘The White Lady ‘ one of her short stories in the collection Art in Nature.
It was a fascinating few days…in the next blog I’ll tell you about our trip out of Helsinki, to sail to Klovharun.
Finally, I couldn’t help but feel that the spirit of Tove Jansson is still alive and well in Helsinki…