Illustrator, painter, scenographer and writer Josef Lada was born on December 17th, 1887 in Hrusice, a small village in central Bohemia, not far from Prague.
His father was Josef Lada (1847 – 1907) and his mother Alžběta Ladová-Janovská (1843 – 1912). He had three siblings – brother František (1870 – 1929) and sisters Antonie (1877 – 1900) and Marie (1881 – 1954). He grew up in the poor family of a local shoemaker, in house no. 15. The family also had a small piece of land, where they could grow vegetable for their own need.
Josef Lada could draw sooner before he could write. When he finished his elementary school in 1901, he decided to continue his education in a special craft school, where he would become a room painter and stage design painter at the studio of Mr. Petránek at Vinohrady (Prague). He left this studio after one month and started another professional training – this time to become a bookbinder and decorator at Mr. Karásek, whose studio was at the corner of Ječná Street and Karlovo Square in Prague. Here he received his certificate of accomplishment in September 1905.
At the same time he attended evening drawing classes of professor A. Jakesch at UMPRUM, Prague. For a short period he was accepted as a regular student and he attended classes of professor E. Dítě and professor Hofbauer. Nevertheless, soon he chose to leave the school and start his own artistic career.
In 1905 he met Hana Budějická, whom he married on June 18th, 1923 in Prague. Their best men were writers František Skácelík and Karel Vika. Josef and Hana Lada had two daughters – Alena (1925 – 1992) and Eva (1928 - 1945). From 1925 on they lived in Prague in Ohradní street (nowadays Lada street), where Lada had his studio, too. In 1925 he became the editor in chief of the Sunday issue of České slovo – Kvítko z čertovy zahrádky, and he kept this job till 1940. After that he concentrated more on his non-commissioned work and reduced his work for various journals and newspapers. After 1924 he started returning to his native village of Hrusice. He and his family would spend here their summer holidays, in his case filled with work. In 1930 he decided to buy a piece of land here and have a house built.
Lada’s style of drawing is very specific; it reflects his excellent memory and talent of observation. Czechs are familiar with his drawings and paintings. In his pictures he recollects his modest childhood in a small village, the world of poor artisans, their simple joys, passing of time marked by seasonal work and holidays. His favorite techniques were drawing, gouache and tempera. He was especially famous for his illustrations of children books but he would illustrate books for adult readers, too. His talents were many; he was also a popular writer of books for children. He wrote and illustrated many books, the most famous being Kocour Mikeš (Mikeš the Cat). He was a member of the SVU Mánes and SČUG Hollar art unions. He received the official state title National Artist in 1947. He died on December 14th, 1957 in Prague and he is buried at the Olšany cemetery in Prague.
During his long and artistically fruitful life he created more than 15 000 black and white and colorful illustrations. His illustrations for the novel The Good Soldier Švejk are probably his most famous ones. His non-commissioned work is also of interest, there are more than 550 pictures. His favorite characters were water sprites and night-guards. Scenes related to classical Czech winter are also very typical for his work. His work can be found both in private and public collections, for example in the collections of Památník národního písemnictví, Národní galerie Praha, Muzeum umění Olomouc, Oblastní muzeum Praha-Východ and other places. He contributed his drawings to many journals (Máj, Rašple, Kopřivy, Chuďas, Humoristické listy, Karikatury) and dailies; he would illustrate music sheets and calendars, design posters and ex-libris.
He did scene and costume design for many theater performances. One of his earliest projects was Strakonický dudák (The Pipe Player of Strakonice) by Josef Kajetán Tyl, performed in the National Theater in Prague in 1930. On the other hand, his late work was scenography for Dvořák’s opera Čert a Káča (The Devil and Kate). Unfortunately, this project was never staged. He was interested in animated film, too. During his life he cooperated on several films – Říkadla (Rhymes) (music by Leoš Janáček, directed by Eduard Hofman), puppet film The Good Soldier Švejk (directed by Jiří Trnka) or a feature film Hrátky s čertem (directed by Josef Mach).
More than 14 monographs or books of memoirs were written about Josef Lada, there were more than seventy one-man shows of his work and he participated in many collective exhibitions.