The sea was Tove Jansson's greatest inspiration. When she was a child her family lived in summer in the Stockholm archipelago. Later in life, she had her atelier in Helsinki, but lived much of her life on a small island called Klovharu, one of the Pellinki Islands near the town of Porvoo. Tove Jansson lived with her partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä.
Her book Bildhuggarens dotter (1968, Sculptor's Daughter) is an autobiographical account of her youth.
Jansson displayed a number of artworks in exhibitions during the 30s and early 40s, and her first solo exhibition was held in 1943. Despite generally positive reviews, criticism induced Jansson to refine her style such that in her 1955 solo exhibition her style had become less overloaded in terms of detail and content. Between 1960 and 1970 Jansson held five more solo-exhibitions.
Jansson also created a series of commissioned murals and public works throughout her career which may still be viewed in their original locations. Among others, Jansson created works for:
In addition to providing the illustrations for her own Moomin books Jansson also illustrated Swedish translations of other classics such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Tove Jansson wrote and illustrated her first Moomin book, The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945, during World War II. She said later that the war had depressed her, and she had wanted to write something naïve and innocent.
The publisher refused to use the name "Moomin" in the title of the book, afraid that it would confuse the public, and used the term "Little Trolls" instead. The first book was hardly noticed, but the next Moomin books Comet in Moominland (1946) and Finn Family Moomintroll (1948) (English title - the original title translates to "The Magician's Hat") made her famous.
The style of the Moomin books changed as time went by. The first books, up to Moominland Midwinter (1957), are adventure stories including floods, comets, and supernatural things.
Comet in Moominland is the story of a comet that almost destroys Moominvalley (some critics have considered this as an allegory of nuclear weapons).
Moominsummer Madness (1955) pokes fun at the world of the theatre: the Moomins explore an empty theatre and perform Moominpappa's pompous hexametric melodrama. The characters in these books do not undergo any psychological development.
Moominland Midwinter marks a turning point in the series. The books take on more realistic settings ("realistic" in the context of the Moomin universe) and the characters start to acquire some psychological depth. Moominland in Midwinter focuses on Moomintroll, who wakes up in the middle of the winter (Moomins sleep from November to April, as mentioned on the back of the book), and has to cope with the strange and unfriendly world he finds. The short story collection Tales from Moominvalley (1962) and the novels Moominpappa at Sea (1965) and Moominvalley in November (1970) are serious and psychologically searching books, far removed from the light-heartedness and cheerful humor of Finn Family Moomintroll. After Moominvalley in November Tove Jansson stopped writing about Moomins and started writing for adults.
Besides the Moomin novels and short stories, Tove Jansson also wrote and illustrated four original and highly popular picture books: The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My (1952), Who will Comfort Toffle? (1960), The Dangerous Journey (1977), and An Unwanted Guest (1980).
Tove Jansson worked as illustrator and cartoonist for the Finland-Swedish satirical magazine Garm from the 1930s to 1953. One of her political cartoons achieved a brief international fame: she drew Adolf Hitler as a crying baby in diapers, surrounded by Neville Chamberlain and other great European leaders, who tried to calm the baby down by giving it slices of cake - Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc. Jansson also produced illustrations during this period for the Christmas magazines Julen and Lucifer (just as her mother had earlier) as well as several smaller productions. Her earliest comic strips were produced for productions including Lunkentus (Prickinas och Fabians äventyr, 1929), Vårbrodd (Fotbollen som Flög till Himlen, 1930), and Allas Krönika (Palle och Göran gå till sjöss, 1933).
The figure of the Moomintroll appeared first in Jansson's political cartoons, where it was used as a signature character near the artist's name. This "Proto-Moomin," then called Snork or Niisku, was thin and ugly, with a long, narrow nose and devilish tail. Jansson said that she had designed the Moomins in her youth: after she lost a philosophical quarrel about Immanuel Kant with one of her brothers, she drew "the ugliest creature imaginable" on the wall of their WC and wrote under it "Kant". This Moomin later gained weight and a more pleasant appearance, but in the first Moomin book The Moomins and the Great Flood (originally Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen), the Immanuel-Kant-Moomin is still perceptible. The name "Moomin" comes from Tove Jansson's uncle, Einar Hammarsten: when she was studying in Stockholm and living with her Swedish relations, her uncle tried to stop her pilfering food by telling her that a "Moomintroll" lived in the kitchen closet and breathed cold air down people's necks.
In 1952, after Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll had been translated into English, a British publisher asked if Tove Jansson would be interested in drawing comic strips about the Moomins. Jansson had already drawn a long Moomin comic adventure, Mumintrollet och jordens undergång ("Moomintrolls and the End of the World"), based loosely on Comet in Moominland, for the Finland-Swedish newspaper Ny Tid, and she accepted the offer. The comic strip Moomintroll, started in 1954 in the Evening News, a newspaper for the London area and London commuters (no longer in business). Tove Jansson drew 21 long Moomin stories from 1954 to 1959, writing them at first by herself and then with her brother Lars Jansson. She eventually gave the strip up because the daily work of a comic artist did not leave her time to write books and paint, but Lars took over the strip and continued it until 1975.
The series was published in book form in Swedish, and books 1 and 2 have been published in English, Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip.
The earliest production was a 1949 theatrical version of Comet in Moominland performed at Åbo Svenska Teater.
In the early 50s, Jansson collaborated on moomin-themed children's plays with Vivica Bandler, and in 1952 Jansson designed stage settings and dresses for Pessi and Illusia, a ballet by Ahti Sonninen (Radio tekee murron) which was performed at the Finnish National Opera. By 1958, Jansson began to become directly involved in theater as Lilla Teater produced Troll i kulisserna, a play with lyrics composed by Jansson and music composed by Erna Tauro. The production was a success and later performances were held in Sweden and Norway.
In 1974 the first Moomin opera was produced with music composed by Ilkka Kuusisto.
Jansson's Moomin books, originally written in Swedish, have been translated into 33 languages. After the Kalevala and books by Mika Waltari, they are the most widely translated works of Finnish literature.
Tove Jansson was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Tove Jansson and Finish Childrens Culture commemorative coin, minted in 2004. The obverse depicts a combination of Tove Jansson portrait with several objects: the skyline, an artist's palette, a crescent, and a sailboat. The reverse design features three Moomin characters.