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Saturday, May 26, 2018

George Soper

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

George Soper was once well-known as a painter and etcher, specializing in horses and country scenes, and chronicling a fast-disappearing rural society, and also as the father of the illustrator Eileen Soper. Yet he was also a prolific illustrator, of periodicals and books, especially children’s adventure, historical and fantasy tales.

He was born on 2 May 1870 and baptized in 27 July 1870 in West Hackney, Middlesex. His father, George Robert Soper (born in St, Pancras, London, 1838) was a manufacturer; his mother, Elizabeth Longman, née Cogan, was a milliner, born in Kingston, Somerset, in 1835. They married in Islington in 1860, with George being the fifth of their seven children, all born between 1861 and 1876. When George was born the family was living in Victoria Road, Hornsey. In the 1881 census they were recorded at 1 Sandford Place, Hackney, with George Robert now working as a horticultural sundriesman.

Details of George Soper¹s education are sketchy. A brief biography at Chris Beetle's Gallery suggests he went to a boarding school in Ramsgate, and it was in Ramsgate that other sources (e.g. the online Wildlife Art Gallery and the Suffolk Artists website) say he studied art. In around 1885 he was apprenticed to George Sydney Waterlow, a member of a large dynasty of printers and stationers, as a lithographer, while living with his parents at 300 Amherst Road, Stoke Newington. On 20 July 1897, after spending two years (1894-96) in the 20th Middlesex (Artists’) Rifle Volunteers, he married Ada Lehany at St. Mary’s, Stoke Newington. Ada, born on Shoreditch on 4 May 1873 in was the daughter of Patrick Lehany, an Irish boot-maker, and his wife Mary. George and Ada moved to “Langford”, 12 Palmers Green Villas, Enfield, where they had their first daughter, Eva Lilian, born on 24 March 1901. They subsequently moved to “Reddaford”, Slades Hill, Enfield, where a second daughter, Eileen Alice, was born on 26 March 1905.

Soper’s career as an illustrator had begun in 1894, with contributions to the boys’ story paper Chums. In November 1896 he contributed to the inaugural number of The Osborne, a monthly periodical published by S.W. Partridge. He went on to contribute to several more periodicals in the following four years, including Golden Sunbeams, The Prize for Girls and Boys, Young England, The Children’s Friend, The Windsor Magazine, and The Captain (for which he worked for around 19 years).

He also began illustrating books in the late 1890s, whilst operating out of a studio in New Court, Carey Street, initially children’s adventure and historical stories, although later on he illustrated several religious works, alongside re-issues of classic novels, for example an edition of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies for the publishers Headley Brothers in 1908. Other Headley re-issues he illustrated included Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1911), The Arabian Nights (1913), Tales from Shakespeare (1915), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1916).

In 1905 Soper began studying etching under Frank Short (later Sir Frank Short). He had already exhibited several paintings at the Royal Academy, from 1890 onwards, and in 1913 his first print was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy. He subsequently spent a further four years (1916-20) studying engraving and printmaking under Short at the Royal College of Art, being elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1918, a full member in 1920, and a Fellow in 1921.

In the meantime he had built a house at 42 Harmer Green Lane, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, which he and his family moved into in 1908. (The house was originally called Hill Lodge, and was re-named as “Wildings” by his daughters after his death). His large garden enabled him to indulge in one of his passions, botany, which found an expression in books he illustrated such as British Wild Flowers: Their Haunts and Associations (1917), and Hardy Perennials and Herbaceous Borders (1938). After his death, his daughter Eileen continued living in the house, with the garden being celebrated in Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper, written by Duff Hart-Davis and published in 1991.

In an essay on the website of the art dealers Howgill Tattersall Dr Hilary Taylor  notes that:

By the 1920s, Soper had at his command a wide range of graphic techniques, including wood cuts and wood engravings, etchings and drypoints: some of his most vivid impressions were captured with this latter technique….. Increasingly, Soper dedicated his art to rendering the lives of farmers, sailors, fishermen, smiths, shepherds, foresters, hauliers and manual workers, often revealing the hard work or the solitary life associated with their traditional tasks. Above all, he became passionate about depicting the heavy horses on which so much of this work depended. Time and again, he pictured these horses, in teams or merely on their own, working closely with men - some of whom must have started to become conscious that this way of life was on the wane.
After Eileen Soper’s death in 1990, a large number of watercolours, sketches and drawings of horses, executed by George Soper over a long period, were discovered in her studio. These were brought together and published in George Soper’s Horses: A Celebration of the English Working Horse, in 1991.

In the meantime, George had continued his career as an illustrator. Between 1901 and 1935 he contributed to a further range of periodicals, including The London Magazine, The Sunday Strand, Cassell’s Magazine, Fry’s Magazine, Little Folks, The Strand Magazine, The Red Magazine, The War Budget, The Boy’s Own Paper, The Wide World Magazine, The Studio, The Bystander, The Sphere, Country Life and The Illustrated London News. He was particularly noted for his work with The Boy’s Own Paper, to which he contributed for over ten years, between 1913 and 1924, illustrating, among others, several serials by Charles Gilson.

He also continued illustrating children’s books, again mainly historical and adventure stories, and he also contributed to a number of children’s annuals, such as The British Girl’s Annual, The Empire Annual for Boys and Warne’s Happy Book for Girls.

George Soper died on 13 August 1942, leaving an estate valued at £2,958. His wife died on 9 April 1956, leaving £6,479.

His younger daughter Eileen Soper became a well-known illustrator. Taught by her father, she exhibited her first two etchings at the Royal Academy in 1920, aged only 15. From the early 1940s she was closely associated with Enid Blyton, illustrating around 50 of her books, including all 21 of the “Famous Five” series. She went on to write and illustrate several natural history books, and was a founder member of the Society of Wildlife Artists. She never married, and died in a Hertford nursing home on 18 March 1990, leaving an estate valued at just under £205,000.

Eva Soper, who had been a successful designer with the Royal Worcester company, famous for her bone china birds, died in the same nursing home as Eileen six months later, on 9 September 1990, leaving £628,000.


Books illustrated by George Soper
Bushigrams by Guy Boothby, Ward, Lock & Co., 1897 (with other artists)
A Venturesome Voyage by F. Scarlett Potter, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1898
Phil and I by Paul Blake, T. Nelson & Sons, 1899
One of Buller’s Horse: A Story of the Zulu Campaign by William Johnston, T. Nelson & Sons, 1900
The Three Scouts: A Story of the Boer War by Frederick J. Whishaw, Griffith Farran & Co., 1900
Sons of the Empire by George Griffith and other authors, John F. Shaw & Co., 1903 (with other artists)
Red Jacket: The Last of the Senecas by Edward Sylvester Ellis, Cassell & Co., 1906
Against All Odds, Containing Several Tales of Robin Hood, As Well As Other Stories by various authors, John F. Shaw, 1906(?) (with other artists)
A Voyage Round the World by W.H.G. Kingston, T. Nelson & Sons, 1907 (re-issue)
Parables from Fairyland by M. Sunderland MacLaughlin, Headley Brothers, 1907 (with Osman Thomas)
The Apple Lady by Bessie Marchant, Collins, 1908
Adam Argham by Mrs S.R. Graham Clark, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1908
Gerard’s Long Journey by Charles Reade, Hodder & Stoughton, 1908
Noodle, or From Barrack Room to Mission Field by S.E. Burrow, S.W. Partridge, 1908
The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley, Headley Bros., 1908 (re-issue)
By Creek and Jungle by John K. Leys, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1909
The Master of the Rebel First: A Story of a Public School by J. Howard Brown, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1909
From the Tanyard to the White House by Wiliam Thayer, Hodder & Stoughton, 1909
Her Little Kingdom by Laura Anna Barter, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1909
Lost in the Rockies by Edward Sylvester Ellis, Cassell & Co., 1909 (re-issue)
Frank Fairleigh, or Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil by Frank E. Smedley, Collins, 1909(?) (re-issue)
Stirring Stories of Peace and War, by Sea and Land by James Macaulay, Hodder & Stoughton, 1910
Under the Edge of the Earth: A Story of Three Chums and a Startling Quest by F.H. Bolton, Religious Tract Society, 1910
A Family of Nine! By E.C. Phillips, S.W. Partridge & Co., 1910
“Jimmy” The Tales of a Little Black Bear by May Wynne, S.W. partridge & Co., 1910
Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, Cassell & Co., 1910 (re-issue)
The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children by Charles Kingsley, Headley Bros., 1910 (re-issue)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Cassell & Co., 1910 (re-issue)
Mount Desolation: An Australian Romance by Carlton Dawe, Cassell & Co., 1910 (re-issue)
The Adventures of Dick Onslow Among the Redskins by W.H.G. Kingston, Collins, 1910(?) (re-issue)
Stories of Hebrew Heroes by Rufus Matthew Jones, Headley Bros., 1911
The Three Homes by Frederick. W. Farrar, Cassell & Co., 1911 (with Stanley L. Wood) (re-issue)
Among the Hills by Reginald Farrer, Headley Bros., 1911 (with Mrs Addington Symonds)
A Book of Bible Stories, T. Nelson & Sons, 1911 (with other artists)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Headley Bros., 1911 (re-issue)
The Colters: An Australian Story for Girls by J.M. Whitfield, Hodder & Stoughton, 1912
Friend or Foe? A Tale of Three Soldiers by Samuel Edwin Burrow, S.W. Patridge & Co., 1912
Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Headley Bros., 1912 (re-issue)
The Arabian Nights, Headley Bros., 1913 (re-issue)
Heart o’ the West: A Story of a Girl’s Adventures in Canada by Olaf Baker, Cassell & Co., 1914
Fifty-two Bible Stories for Children by J.E. Hodder Williams, Hodder & Stoughton, 1914
Red Feather: A Tale of the American Frontier by Edward Sylvester Ellis, Cassell & Co., 1914 (re-issue)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Cassell & Co., 1914 (re-issue)
Herbert Strang’s Book of Adventure Stories, Hodder & Stoughton, 1914 (with other artists)
Submarine U.93: A Tale of the Great War by Charles Gilson, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1915
Bear Cavern by Edward Sylvester Ellis, Cassell & Co., 1915
Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb, Headley Bros. 1915 (re-issue)
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Ernest Beeson, Headley Bros., 1916
An Anzac in the Alps: The Story of an Australian Soldier’s Adventures in the Italian Army by T.C. Bridges, George Newnes Ltd. 1916
The Prisoners’ Friends by Constance Wakeford, Headley Bros., 1917
The Wounded Soldiers’ Friends by Constance Wakeford, Headley Bros., 1917
British Wild Flowers: Their Haunts and Associations by William Graveson, Headley Bros., 1917
Netherdale for Ever! By Theodora Wilson Wilson, Swarthmore Press, 1919
Into the Soundless Deeps: A Tale of Wonder and Invention by F.H. Bolton, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1919
The Illustrated War Record, Headley Bros., 1916-1919
The Fire-Gods: A Tale of the Congo by Charles Gilson, “The Boy’s Own paper” Office, 1920
The Scarlet Hand, Being the Adventures of Travers Humphrey and His Friend Jack Halliday by Charles Gilson, “The Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1920
The Black Brotherhood and Some of its Sisters by R.P. Garrold, Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1920 (re-issue)
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Whitcombe & Tombs, 1920
The Eighteenth Century 1714-1815 by Charles & Mary Lamb, George Allen & Unwin, 1920(?)
Alan Dale by L.G. Irby, Religious Tract Society, 1921
Etchings and Dry-points with a criticism by A.J. Finberg, H.C. Dickins, 1921
Parson John of the Labrador by Frank Baird, Religious Tract Society, 1924
River and Forest by Edward Sylvester Ellis, Cassell & Co., 1924 (re-issue)
The Ship Beautiful: A Two-Fold Tale by C.R. Allen, Frederick Warne & Co., 1925
When the Earth Swung Over: A Strange Story of the Mysterious White People of the Napo by Alfred Colbeck, “Boy’s Own Paper” Office, 1926
Captured by Indians: A Tale of the American Frontier by Edward Sylvester Ellis, Cassell & Co., 1926 (re-issue)
John Howard, The Prisoner’s Friend: His Home Life and Work by Lina Orman Cooper, Headley Bros., 1929
Wonder Stories, George G. Harrap & Co., 1934 (with other artists)
Hero Tales by F.H. Pritchard, George G. Harrap & Co., 1935
A Schoolgirl in Switzerland by Katherine Rhodes, George G. Harrap & Co., 1936
Little Gardens: Some Hints for Making and Keeping them Beautiful by Gladys Williams, Frederick Warne & Co., 1938
Hardy Perennials and Herbaceous Borders by Walter Page Wright, Headley Bros., 1938 (with other artists)
The Story of Moses and Ruth, Samuel and Daniel by Amy Steedman, T, Nelson & Sons, 1940(?)(with other artists)
Round the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, E.J. Arnold, 1945 (re-issue)
Bible Stories for Children by Muriel J. Chambers, T. Nelson & Sons, 1949 (with other artists)
George Soper’s Horses: A Celebration of the English Working Horse by Paul Heiney, H.F. & G. Witherby, 1991
Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper by Duff Hart-Davis, H.F & G. Witherby, 1991

The Water Babies, The Heroes, Arabian Nights, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Tales from Shakespeare, Tanglewood Tales and Grimm’s Fairy Tales were re-issued by George Allen & Unwin in 1923.

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