Jenny Nyström,

mother of the swedish tomte

Jenny Nyström,1854 - 1946, is a remarkabel artist. Almost all "tomtar" we have seen on christmas cards and paper hangings are painted by her or inspired by her tomte image. She actually created the first tomte in about 1875.

There were other tomtar in the world then. For example St Nicholas or Santa Claus in the angosachsian culture. In Sweden Jennys special tomte came to dominate. Together with the folkoristic old little grey tomte.


The wonderful tale Little Viggs adventure on Christmas Eve written by the author Viktor Rydberg inspired Jenny Nyström. She was very young when she made drawings accompanying this tale. And Viktor Rydberg saw them and suggested the Bonniers publishing company to release the book. They said no so Hedlunds publishing released it in1875 - when Jenny was 21 years old. And the tomte image started. The drawings in the saga is considered to be the first tomte image. The tomte face also was said to lend the face of Jenny´s father´s. Viktor Rydbergs saga was a little inspired by St Nicholas on the sleigh. His tomte had also a sleigh but it was powered by three mini-horses instead of a reindeer.

When she was young

Jenny was born in Kalmar on the 17th of June 1854. She got a fine artistic education at Göteborgs museum, drawing and painting school, which is nowadays the wellknown Valands Konstskola. After her father Daniel got a job in Göteborg as a teacher the family moved to Göteborg from Kalmar where Daniel had been a organist in the castle chapel and a schoolteacher.

Jenny was an immensely talented student and later she entered Konstakademin in Stockholm where she studied for 8 years. After that she went to Paris for studies at Académie Colarossi and Akadémie Julian. She exhibited at the famous Salon with a self portrait and was called in the paper Aftonbladet in 1884 : "...let us also make a bow for the talent of the artist."

The artist

Her artistic contribution was thousands of pictures; illustrations in books for children and adults and covers for christmas magazines. Jenny Nyström also created table cloths, paper hangings, jigsaw puzzles and bookmarks. She painted tomten in a lot of wonderful surroundings, with snow and many different animals: pigs, goats, cats, birds and horses. Tomten went by sleighs and when the times changed tomten became modern and went by car, areroplane, air balloon or on exotic camels, elephants, swans - and historical viking ships. Mostly he was the little tomte inspired by the old swedish legend but sometimes he looked like St Nicholas or Father Frost.

She also produced oil paintings, crayons and water colour drawings. She was married to Daniel Stoopendal who took care of the business for his wife. Her artistic worl supported the family, both her husband and their son Kurt. Jenny became 92 years old.

Is´n this a saga too!


© Jeanette Axvi


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Source: God Jul med Jenny Nyström av Gunnel Forsberg Warringer. Forum 1966.