The Brave Josef Lada

When I looked up Czech painter-caricaturist Josef Lada (1887-1957), I was surprised to find him called ‘one of the best-loved Czech painters of all time‘. There’s no question that Lada’s work remains immensely popular among Czechs, but I suppose the question for context would be « how many painters from that corner of the world are well known outside of outside of the Czech Republic and ex-USSR countries » (probably not many). Lada doubtlessly deserves his lasting fame, at any rate.

My familiarity with his style comes from his illustrations for Jaroslav Hašek‘s sardonically hilarious novel The Good Soldier Švejk, a favourite family book from which we can all quote at length, and which I own in several Russian editions (thanks to inheriting my grandfather’s copy). There have been many adaptations of Švejk, but I can only imagine him the way Lada depicted him. Visit BibliOdyssey for a glimpse of the good soldier.

While his renown is assured thanks to his work on Hašek’s magnum opus, the entirely self-taught Lada is also fondly remembered for his illustrations to children’s books (which he occasionally wrote himself), as well as paintings of pastoral life, probably inspired by his childhood in the small village of Hrusice. For a fuller biography, head over to The Genius of Josef Lada, the most complete source of information that I could find online in English.

Here’s an assortment of images from various books – among others, Ezopské bajky (The Fables of Aesop) from 1931; Kocour Mikeš (Tomcat Mikeš), written and illustrated by Lada between 1934 and 1936, and being a sort of a take on Puss in Boots; Nezbedné Pohádky (Naughty Fairy Tales) from 1946 – as well as some postcards and aforementioned village illustrations.

A typical pub night, 1929.
Winter Pleasures, 1936.

« In the first year of his life, [Lada] had a life-altering accident – he fell on his father’s knife and the injuries sustained permanently blinded his right eye. Some art historians later attributed the artist’s flat-perspective painting style to this incident.»

Lada’s depiction of ‘vodnik‘, an evil water spirit.
A page from Zvířátka (which translates to ‘beasts’ or ‘animals’), a book comprising a dozen animal illustrations.
A New Year postcard from 1928.
A collection of Lada’s caricatural cartoons – ‘A Hundred Cheerful Drawings’ – published in 1970. I found this little volume in a used bookstore, and was delighted to find what was clearly the work of the artist who illustrated Švejk – I didn’t know Lada by name, back then. I don’t speak Czech, but it’s still plenty fun to leaf through.

For more Lada art, visit the Notes From a Superfluous Man blog!

~ ds