woman smoking cigarette

In 1947, Tove Jansson began one of her most famous and most challenging art projects ever. She was ordered to paint two large frescos to the dining room of the Helsinki city hall, by Erik von Frenckell. Tove began the ambitious work with passion to celebrate the time after war in Finland. Each step she reported to her “beloved Vifslan”, Vivica Bandler.

Vivica Bandler was Tove’s first female lover. Their love was passionate and all-consuming. Tove worshipped Vivica and described that loving her had changed everything. All things felt new and all feelings were more intense. And Tove was not shy about showing this love, even if she did it in secret (note, homosexuality was illegal in Finland until 1971 and listed as a disease until 1981).

One of the boldest and bravest gestures was in one of the frescos ordered by von Frenckell (Vivica’s father, actually).

The blonde woman smoking her cigarette is Tove herself and the dark-haired woman dancing behind her is Vivica. Painting them so close and so visible was a brave move on Tove’s part and served to fuel the rumours around them. Tove laid out her love for all the world to see, but in a careful way.

Tove and Vivica even appear in Moomin books; as Thingumy and Bob from Finn Family Moomintroll (1948). Their original Swedish names, Tofslan and Vifslan, give away the connection. These two speak in a secret language only they can understand and are running away from The Groke who wants to steal their precious gem; the most beautiful thing in the world. You do not need deep analysis to see what the story represents.

Eventually Tove’s and Vivica’s love ended like all quick and passionate love stories; to it’s own impossibility. Like with about all her lovers, Tove still remained friends with Vivica. Hot summer turned to cool autumn in the book and the frescos were finished.