Best known for illustrating Jaroslav Hašek’s World War I novel The Good Soldier Švejk, Czech artist Josef Lada is synonymous with Christmas in the Czech lands, his snowy Czech villages and cozy winter feasts annually gracing countless holiday greetings.
But there is much more to this self-taught artist whose work is inextricably bound with Czech heritage and whose folksy drawings encompass political cartoons and caricatures, paintings, and theater set designs.
This year Lada celebrates a double anniversary. Born on December 17, 1887, the 130th anniversary of his birth is being commemorated this year with a major retrospective at Prague’s Dancing House, running through April 1.
Lada died 60 years ago today on December 14, 1957. Here are some things you might not have known about the prolific author and illustrator of beloved Czech fairytales:
- He grew up as the youngest of four children in a family of shoemakers in the central Bohemian village Hrusice, where today you will find a memorial to him.
- His father was a shoemaker. At the age of one, little Josef fell over in his workroom and managed to injure himself so badly that he permanently lost sight in his right eye.
- He has had gallery exhibits in Paris, Vienna, Geneva, Riga, Venice, Rome, Edinburgh, Budapest, Moscow, Sofia.
- He designed costumes and theater sets for the National Theatre and other Czech theaters.
- He is buried in Prague’s Olšany Cemetery.
- There is an asteroid named for Josef Lada (17625, 1996 AY1). It was discovered by P. Pravec and L. Šarounová from the Onřejov observatory, January 14, 1996.
- To complement Jaroslav Hašek’s Good Soldier Svejk, Lada’s drew over 1,350 illustrations (both color and black and white). New editions of this book are still published in many countries all over the world. The 1956 animated version of the movie “Svejk” by Jiří Trnka is considered a treasure of the Czech cinematography.
- There’s a so-called “Lada’s Region” in the Czech Republic, an area surrounding his birthplace in central Bohemia, that draws upon the painters legacy and is meant to remind visitors of his work.
- While Lada’s Christmas scenes remained popular under communism, the regime took exception to religious figures in a 1970s calendar which were replaced by a bowl of fruit.
- His children’s book Mikeš about a talking black cat recently sparked a debate about racist undertones in Czech literary works for its depiction of a Roma character.
- The Josef Lada and Alena Ladová memorial is placed in Lada’s former house in Hrusice. It opened in June 1986.
- His youngest daughter Eva tragically died during an aerial bombardment on February 14, 1945. She was only seventeen years old.