Josef Lada’s paintings have reached iconic status in the Czech Republic. Lada was the illustrator who gave the smiling, rotund, Good Soldier Svejk his form. In the course of his career, he illustrated over 200 books - some, fairytale anthologies for children, others, like Svejk, intended for grown ups. Now Josef Lada is the subject of a
major new retrospective in Prague.
Lada was born on December 17, 1887, as the youngest of four children in the local shoe-maker’s family. As a youngster he left for Prague to get an apprenticeship in book binding, which he received in 1905. At that time he met his future wife, Miss Hana Budejicka, but they only got married after 18 years, when Lada was 36 and his fiancée was a year younger. They had two daughters – Alenka and Evicka.
In 1931 Lada’s native house in Hrusice was pulled down, because it was dilapidated and there was a threat of complete collapse. A new house has been built on the site, on which there’s now a plaque commemorating Lada. At that time Lada lived in a block of flats in Prague, but he missed his native village, so he had a beautiful villa built there in 1935, which since 1986 houses the Josef Lada museum.
In 1942 Lada wrote a wonderful book, which was in fact his autobiography, called “The Chronicle of My Life”. Unfortunately, Lada stopped writing the book in the year 1942, but it’s followed by another book, written by his elder daughter Alena, called “My Dad Josef Lada”. Besides many other things related to Lada, we have a few of his personal belongings – his favourite pipes, cards with which he played a popular card game called ‘marias’ in Czech, and we also have samples of his beautiful hand writing – it’s part of a manuscript for his book “Magpie on a Willow Tree”.
Lada died on December 14, 1957, just three days before his 70th birthday, and he is buried at the Olsany cemetery in Prague. Lada started painting in the style that we know now only later in his life, after 1920, and by then he used several different styles, but there are only three tiny pictures from his early period in the museum. He also painted scene decorations for theatres, the most famous of which were those for Bedrich Smetana’s opera ‘The Bartered Bride”. When the opera was performed in Amsterdam in 1937, using Lada’s decorations, it was conducted by the legendary Czech conductor, Vaclav Talich.