The work of George Soper and his daughter Eileen comprises some of the most popular strands of British art in the twentieth century. Father and daughter placed equal emphasis on subjects that have diverted and delighted a large percentage of the population, and presented them directly and precisely. In working extensively as printmakers and illustrators, they ensured wide dissemination of their images through exhibition and publication. Eileen Soper was born on 26 March 1905. Like her elder sister Eva, she was educated at Olive Downing’s School in Knebworth and Hitchin Girls’ School. Encouraged by her father at an early age, Eileen Soper soon rivalled him in talent and surpassed him in popularity, while neatly complementing his subjects by depicting children at play.
She first exhibited her etchings at the Print Makers Society of California in 1921, and was immediately elected a society member. She attracted great attention among critics, fellow artists and the general public on both sides of the Atlantic; only four years after her debut, Queen Mary purchased an impression of the print, Flying Swings. As she grew, Eileen moved from treating children as her subject to making them her public, so that from the time of her father’s death, in August 1942, she worked primarily as an illustrator.
In a notable collaboration with Enid Blyton, Eileen illustrated the entire series of Famous Five adventures and a vast range of other books, from The Children’s Life of Christ to My First Nature Book. The twenty-three books that she herself both wrote and illustrated demonstrate her developing skill as a wildlife artist and her deepening response to nature from innocent anthropomorphism to empathetic observation. She was a founder member of the Society of Wildlife Artists (1964) and was elected to the membership of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters (1972). In order to encourage birds and mammals, she let much of the rare flora planted by her father return to a state of wildness and even allowed the animals of the garden into the house. After the death of her parents, she shared this singular location with only one other human, her somewhat shadowy sister Eva. Eileen died on 18 March 1990, Eva outliving her by only six months.
The estate and copyright of George and Eileen Soper are now in the care of the Chris Beetles Gallery through Longmores Solicitors on behalf of AGBI. It mounted a highly successful major retrospective in June 1995, and followed it with a show devoted to Eileen’s achievement as a printmaker.