Tove smoked throughout her entire life. The cigarette break in this picture also depicts a moment of focus, contemplation and deep concentration. There are powerful undertones to this introspective self-portrait – war was very much on her mind.
‘At the moment, life is really nothing but waiting, I’m not really living, I simply exist,’ Tove wrote to her friend Eva in July 1941.
Midsummer 1941 was a time of drama for Tove. Her trusted friend Eva Konikoff was a Russian-born Jew and had been forced to flee to America. Tove’s brother Per Olov was fighting on the frontline, as was the artist Tapio Tapiovaara, whom Tove had fallen in love with. In the autumn of 1941, Tove wrote to Eva, ‘No matter what I do, I can’t escape the sense of fear, even though on the outside I go about my everyday life, do my work – am happy, yet underneath I’m plagued by a dark, gruelling anxiety and a flood of vivid, ghastly images that I simply can’t push aside.’
The war years were the toughest of Tove’s life. She was weighed down by doubt and uncertainty: would she ever be able to be happy with her loved ones again?
After Eva had gone, Tove continued to work on a portrait of her. She admired the freedom, energy and passion that Eva represented, and these are the characteristics that Tove brings out most powerfully in this work. She also priced the portrait so highly that she was able to keep it for herself and later make a gift of it to Eva.
The Smoking Girl was, however, bought by Artur Nyman. ‘He intends to keep it in his shop as a tobacco advert,’ Tove wrote in February 1942 to Eva, who was by then already on the other side of the Atlantic. Tove ends the sentence with a string of exclamation marks.
Tove’s trusted friend received about a hundred letters between 1941 and 1960. Eva was someone in whom Tove could always rely.
‘You are the one who is most important to me, as close to me as Ham, but in another way,” Tove wrote. ‘I can discuss all my great joys, all my troubles, all my musings with you – there’s no one else I can tell these things to except you.’
It would be 1949 before the two met again.