sábado, 11 de fevereiro de 2012

The Genius of Josef Lada





The hugely popular illustrator, cartoonist, painter, and novelist, as well as a successful caricaturist and stage designer, Josef Lada was born in Hrusice on December 17, 1887. He grew up in this small village in the Sazava River Valley, about 30 miles southeast of Prague, as the youngest of four siblings in a relatively poor family of a village cobbler. In the first year of his life, he 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.
Between 1893 and 1901, Lada attended elementary school in Hrusice; from 1902, he lived permanently in Prague, where he initially trained as a bookbinder (1902–1905). Although the talented boy had been drawing since early childhood, the oldest preserved drawing dates from 1900; four years later, Lada’s first four published pictures appeared in Maj magazine. His father had died around that time, and the 17-year-old boy was attending evening drawing classes at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague (UMPRUM). There, he got to know the future art historian Vaclav Vilem Stech, future artist Vlastimil H. Brunner, and writer Ignat Herrmann. In 1905, he met his future wife, Hana Budejicka, and started collaborating with other magazines (Svanda dudak, Besidka malych, Noviny mladeze, Chuìas a Komuna). The following year, he contributed to the magazines Neruda, Svitilna, and Novy Neruda, published under pen names, and concurrently published his own literary texts for the first time. He became a full-time student at UMPRUM but left the school in the fall at his own request. He began collaborating with authors Jiri Mahen and Roman Hasek, and the first book featuring his illustrations – J. Havlicek’s Pohadka o Honzikovi a zlatovlase Isole (The Tale of Jack and Golden-haired Isola) – was published.
In 1907, he began his long and fruitful cooperation with publisher J. R. Vilimek, who published Lada regularly in Humoristicke listy (Humor Journal). He drew the cover and illustrations for the slim publication Prvni Maj 1907 (First of May 1907) and met Jaroslav Hasek and writers from the anarchist movement (Frana Sramek, Karel Toman, Marie Majerova, et al). Using a combined technique, he produced his first paintings, such as “Ripe Grain” and “Harvester.” During the following years, he published in satirical journals from Brno, Rasple, and Vienna, Die Muskete. In 1909, he became editor-in-chief of a newly launched magazine, Karikatury (Caricatures), and also drew illustrations for Humor Journal (Josef Skruzny’s series about Venouska Dolejse). By this period, he had already started illustrating books (e.g., book covers for F. Sramek’s Patroly [Patrols] and K. Pulpan’s Bez plachet [Without Sails] and illustrations for R. Hasek’s Potmesile historie [Spiteful History] and K. Vika’s Fatalis), an activity he later became famous for. The first book authored by Lada, My Alphabet, was published in 1911, the same year he met the poet Frantisek Gellner. In the very next year, he began filling the pages of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party’s magazine Koprivy (Nettles) with both black-and-white and color illustrations. That same year, the artist’s mother, Alzbeta Ladova, died in Hrusice.

In 1913, after having lived in a number of sublets in Prague, he moved into a flat on Dittrichova Street with Jaroslav Hasek (where they lived together until the end of January 1915, when Hasek joined forces on the Galician front). From then until the end of the First World War, Lada worked on magazine and book illustrations. During this time he befriended ethnographer and storyteller Vaclav Tille (who also published under the pen name V. Riha). In 1917, he issued a collection of postcards (with A. Dyk’s publishing house Emporium) and co-founded the satirical magazine Sibenicky (The Gallows). He works as an artist with Eduard Bass’ cabaret troupe, The Red Seven, and increasingly concentrates on illustrations for books, mostly Czech fairy tales and nursery rhymes from various authors (e.g., Mahen, Nemcova, Erben, Kubin).
In 1920, Lada presents his drawings publicly for the first time at a group exhibition titled “Cartoonists from The Gallows” in Prague, organized by the Hollar Association of Czech Artists and Graphic Artists, which the young artist had joined. He also created his first cut-out Nativity, a theme he returned to repeatedly in his visual art over the next decades. In 1921, he established permanent and extensive cooperation with the publishing house Melantrich (drawings and cartoons for newspapers, magazines, and books). He also published in the journal Venkov, the newspaper Lidove noviny, and the magazine Rarach. He met up with Jaroslav Hasek again and designed the cover for the first hardback edition of The Good Soldier Svejk During the World War. After Hasek’s death (1923), he prepared his own abridged and revised version of the first sequel to Svejk – also as a series of drawings – for Ceske slovo’s Sunday and entertainment supplements. He began to illustrate the works of Karel Havlicek Borovsky (first the Baptism of St. Vladimir for Lidove noviny); in June 1923, he married Hana Budejicka, and in the same year, he accepts membership in the Manes Association of Fine Artists and the Czechoslovak Syndicate of Fine Artists. From 1924 onward, he returned regularly to his native Hrusice, where he rented a summer residence.
In the mid 1920s, several watershed events occurred in Lada’s life. In October 1925, he was hired as editor-in-chief of Ceske Slovo’s Sunday supplement, Kvitko z certovy zahradky, where he remained until 1935. In December, he and his wife moved into a larger apartment on V Ohradach Street in Prague-Podskali, his first daughter Alena was born, and Adolf Synek’s publishing house published the first edition of Hasek’s Collected Writings with Lada’s illustrations. His artwork is presented at the “Exhibition of Decorative Arts” in Paris, and the first part of the series titled Lada’s Funny Textbooks is published. In February 1926, the artist’s first solo exhibition is held in the Manes Exhibition Hall in Prague. The same year, he produced the core co-llection of black-and-white illustrations for the book The Good Soldier Svejk. In the second half of the 1920s, Lada created a series of paintings depicting life in the Czech countryside, and continued paint according to his own muse till the end of life. In 1928, the painter’s second daughter, Eva, was born, and around this time he began to focus even more on children’s literature, both as an illustrator and writer.


Outside his main line of artwork (newspaper and magazine cartoons, book illustrations, and paintings), Lada accepted a number of contracts for promotional and advertising art; among the most important are the series How Newspapers Are Made (1928) and a set of twelve drawings, There’s No Life Without Water (1937). In 1929, he produced one of the paintings (Tancovacka, The Dance) from his famous “Pub Brawl” series. At the beginning of the 1930s, Lada’s talent was put to use in theater, too; he designed sets and costumes for the National Theater’s productions of J. K. Tyl’s musical The Piper of Strakonice (1930), O. Zich’s opera The Artist’s Idea (1933), and V. Blodek’s opera In the Well (1934). The artist continued to expand his body of paintings; in the years after his second solo exhibition in Prague’s Krasna jizba gallery (1930), he painted works such as Hospoda u Sejku (Pub at the Sejkas), Prvni jarni vyjizdka (The First Spring Trip), Vrany leti (Crows Flying), and his first Hastrman (Water Sprite) – Lada had actually rendered this fairy-tale character before, but only in drawings. He concurrently gained renown in children’s literature with the publication of his first book about a talking cat, O Mikesovi (Purrkin, the Talking Cat, 1933).
After the mid 1930s, Lada can be spoken of as an artist who slowly but surely shifted from magazine cartoons to visual art of his own volition (he left Kvitko) – his most important period as a painter (1935–1951) began. During 1935, he painted his largest painting, Triptych with Bohemian Landscapes, for the Czech Embassy in Paris. In 1936–1937, he completed a most important four-part pictorial series, Detske hry (Children’s Games) – in spring, summer, fall, and winter. The first important variation of Lada’s typical nighttime motif, Christmas Night (1936), also appeared. The artist started building his own house in Hrusice, worked on new Svejk illustrations, and, in 1937, published his first fairytale about “cunning Uncle Fox.” Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, he devoted himself to paintings with Easter and Christmas themes, and published more of this own storybooks, Bubaci a hastrmani (Bogeymen and Water Sprites) and Pohadky naruby (In-and-Outside Tales).
In 1940, Lada ended his employment contract with Ceske Slovo and definitely elevated the freestyle creation as the basis of his art work; he cut drawing cartoons for newspapers and magazines to a minimum. He did, however, present drawings, stories, and recollections in the journal Venkov (Country) on occasion. He illustrated J. Horak’s storybook Cesky Honza (Czech Honza), published his own book Straky na vrbe (Magpies in the Willow Tree) and occasionally returned to theatrical design – after Stolen Grandfather and The Bartered Bride (1936), he designed sets for the theater production of Purrkin, the Talking Cat and an adaptation of The Bogeyman and the Water Sprite. The beginning of 1941 saw an extensive retrospective exhibition at Manes in Prague, which was the last public exhibition of Lada’s work for years. Nevertheless, the author intensified both his painting efforts and illustrative work until the end of the war.

During the Protectorate period, besides images of watermen and water nymphs, his paramount works included Hajneho sen (Gamekeeper’s Dream) and Zvirata prezimuji v hajovne (Animals Hibernating in the Gamekeeper’s Lodge, 1941), the multiple-painting series Twelve Months (1941) and Rvacka v hospode (The Pub Brawl, 1943), a series of impressive nighttime images – May nights and numerous of winter scenes, including the popular rural hog-killings. The artist also displayed mastery in pictures of snow-covered landscapes with villages or children (Krajina s koledniky [Landscape with Carolers] 1942;
Deti v zime [Children in Winter] 1943; Staveni snehulaka [Building a Snowman] and Zima [Winter], both 1944), or sometimes without people (Naves v zimni noci [Village Green on a Winter Night], 1942; Tichy vecer se sochou svateho [Silent Night with a Saint Statue], 1944). Lada’s uncensored memoirs and a key source of information about the artist’s life, Chronicles of My Life, were also published in 1942.
Just before the war ended, tragedy struck Lada’s family: In February 1945, the artist’s youngest daughter Eva died in an American air raid over Prague. Lada completes other important paintings – Vlaceni (Lugging), Vesnice v Posazavi v zime (Sazava Valley Village in Winter), Vodnik v zime (Waterman in Winter), Krajina pred bouri (Landscape before a Storm), etc. In April 1946, a retrospective of the painter’s work was held in Manes. As a new member of the National Socialist Party, in the first post-war years he created posters for a drive to collect pelts, the biennial, or May Day, and drew illustrations for numerous books (e.g., Karel Havlicek Borovsky’s The Baptism of St. Vladimir, King Lavra, and Tyrolese Elegies).

The artist’s first monographs with text by Kamil Novotny were published in an edition of Prameny (Sources, 1947), a series of monographs issued by the Manes association. The predominant motif in his paintings is the night watchman.
In September 1947, Josef Lada was appointed National Artist of Czechoslovakia. Over the next year, Lada devotes himself to paintings for his Czech Christmas series, and made the first version of his inimitable Before the Storm. Fortunately, Lada’s work was hardly influenced by the ascendant genre of Socialist Realism (his Pan-Slavic Agricultural Exhibition series).

After the artist’s solo exhibition in the Posov Gallery at the European Literary Club in Prague (1948), Lada painted the “autobiographical” Hastrmanuv podzim (The Water Sprite’s Autumn, 1949), brimming with melancholy, and that same year another now classic version of The Pub Brawl. In 1948, the painter began collaborating on films – the very first was Rikadla (Nursery Rhymes), an animated film directed by Eduard Hofman with music by Leos Janacek (completed in 1949).




In the late 40s and early 50s, Lada focused his efforts on illustration and non-commissioned works and had several exhibitions. His wife Hana’s death in January 1951 was reflected in the mood of pivotal paintings from that period (Smutna rusalka [Sad Nymph], Ticha noc [Silent Night], Vodnik a havran [Waterman and the Raven], Tvrdy chleb [Hard Bread]).

In 1952, Lada created sets for Dvorak’s opera The Devil and Kate, which were rejected and returned to the artist without explanation. The book Josef Lada for Children was published for the first time, and H. Huska made a documentary, National Artist Josef Lada. From 1953–1954, the artist completes multiple series of new book illustrations (K. Erben’s Fairy Tales, the color edition of The Bogeyman and the Water Sprite, etc.),

and begins working on a new collection of color illustrations for The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War. He paints more water sprites and develops his classic themes (spring, autumn, snowman, hog-killing).


Lada passed through his final fruitful painting phase in 1955. Although his health had deteriorated substantially, he managed to complete a set of twelve paintings, with the same format and winter themes, recapping his most idiosyncratic and popular motifs.





These works represent a well-rounded collection of Josef Lada’s later paintings. Vanocni kapr (Christmas Carp), Ponocny a snehulak (The Night Watchman and the Snowman), and Veverka (Squirrel) are all distinguished by originality, while the now famous variants of the drawings Lednacek (Kingfisher), Tri kralove (Twelfth Night), Ledari (Icemen), Pro drivi (For Firewood), or S koledou (With a Carol) were rendered with perfection. In the same year, Huska made a second documentary, Ladovi furianti (Lada’s Furiants), and there were two premieres – of the animated movie The Devil and Kate, with set designs by Lada, and the puppet film The Good Soldier Svejk, whose director and screenwriter Jiri Trnka made puppets based on Lada’s drawings. The painter could not personally contribute to designing the forthcoming feature film Playing with the Devil because he had undergone treatment in Frantiskovy Lazne at the beginning of the summer. The bound monograph National Artist Josef Lada, with copy by Jaromir Pecirka, was published in an edition of Sources.
In 1956, a collection of poems by Jaroslav Seifert was published – Chapec a hvezdy (The Boy and the Stars), inspired by Lada’s paintings. Lada’s storybook illustrations and Svejk sketches were exhibited at the Venetian Biennale.

That same year, the feature film The Good Soldier Svejk was completed. Director Karel Stekly selected cast with respect to Lada’s original illustrations. He spent the year of 1957 working on new color illustrations for storybooks (About the Cunning Uncle Fox, Purrkin, the Talking Cat, and Drda’s Czech Fairy Tales). The artist’s final work was the expressive painting Water Sprite in Winter.

After the August show “Josef Lada and the Book,” an extensive retrospective of his work was prepared for Prague’s Slovansky (Slavic) Island. Just before opening, on December 14, however, Lada passed away, three days before his 70th birthday.
The importance of this Czech, in fact “national” painter – whom the general public knows almost exclusively from his children’s books, postcards, and calendars – is becoming ever more recognized by fine arts experts and admirers.

However, one of the most precious aspects of the artist’s personality is often forgotten: originality. Josef Lada’s distinctive painting style – polished and perfected during the 20s and culminating with the “iconic Lada” beginning the mid 30s – has given him an extraordinary place in contemporary European art. He can be likened to artists such as Paul Gauguin, Henri “Customs Officer” Rousseau, and Marc Chagall. In that respect, of Czech artists, perhaps only Jan Zrzavy and Jiri Trnka could compete with him.


















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