The work of Eileen Soper – like that of her father, George – comprises some of the most popular strands of British art in the twentieth century. She placed emphasis on subjects that have diverted and delighted a large percentage of the population, and presented them directly and precisely. In working extensively as a printmaker and illustrator, she ensured wide dissemination of her images through exhibition and publication. Eileen Soper was born at ‘Reddaford’, Slades Hill, Enfield, on 26 March 1905, the younger daughter of the artist, George Soper, and his wife, Ada (née Lehany). In 1908, George moved his family out of London to Harmer Green, near Welwyn, in Hertfordshire. There he helped design a new home, at 42 Harmers Green Lane, which he originally called ‘Hill Lodge’.
Like her elder sister, Eva, Eileen was educated at Olive Downing’s School in Knebworth and at Hitchin Girls’ School.
Trained in art by her father from 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 in 1921 at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Print Makers Society of California, and was immediately elected a member of the latter. 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, comprising 35 titles, 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 23 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, which was renamed ‘Wildings’. 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.