George Soper, RE (1870-1942) While beginning his career as an illustrator at the turn of the twentieth century, George Soper established a reputation as a painter and, especially, a printmaker of a wide range of rural subjects. In turn, his daughter, Eileen, was influenced by his skills and sympathies from an early age.
The son of a horticultural sundriesman, George Soper was born on 2 May 1870 in South Hornsey, Middlesex and educated at a boarding school in Ramsgate. Resident in Stoke Newington from 1885, he became an apprentice to printer and stationer, George Sydney Waterlow, and worked alongside Charles Robinson. After a period of two years in the 20th Middlesex Artists’ Volunteers (1894-6), he began work as a periodical illustrator with contributions to Robinson’s Golden Sunbeams. After his marriage in 1897, he and his family moved first to Enfield and then to Harmer Green, near Welwyn in Hertfordshire, where he built the house that was later known as Wildings.
His elder daughter, Eva, was born in 1901, four years before the younger prodigy, Eileen Soper.
In 1908, George Soper illustrated The Water Babies, the first of a number of classic gift books for Headley Brothers. His contributions to these volumes reveal his awareness of a wide range of illustrators from Randolph Caldecott to Arthur Rackham. In turning to work as a painter and printmaker, he continued to draw on his strengths as an illustrator in order to convey the maximum amount of information, especially that regarding the activities of the rural environment. He had exhibited paintings since 1890 (at the Royal Academy), and in 1913 showed his first print (at the Royal Scottish Academy). He studied printmaking under Sir Frank Short at the Royal College of Art (1916-20) and worked extensively as a printmaker during the print boom of the twenties. He was elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1918, and became a full member two years later. He died in August 1942.
The estate and copyright of George and Eileen Soper are in the care of the Chris Beetles Gallery through Longmores Solicitors on behalf of the AGBI. The gallery mounted a highly successful retrospective in June 1995, and followed it with a show devoted to Eileen’s achievement as a printmaker.