Quick Review (read on for full review)
A delightful, beautiful book, capturing a snapshot of an unchanging, rural corner of England, whilst also making a wonderful record of the life and artistic talent of Eileen Soper, her father George, and to a lesser extent, her sister Eva. 5 / 5
Summary (from Goodreads)
When Eileen Soper died in March 1990, the age of 84, executors found an astonishing treasure-trove at her home in Hertfordshire. Not only did the studio contain a great many paintings by her father George Soper, the celebrated horse artist, who had died in 1942. There were also more than 200 watercolours by Eileen herself, as well as a very large number of her drawings, sketchbooks and letters. Much of her work was done in the half-wild garden that surrounds Wildings, her home near Welwyn. Planted by her father, and designed as a sanctuary for birds and other creatures, the garden became the centre of Eileen’s life, when her father died, she and her sister Eva took it on, extended it, lived in it, worked in it, loved it and fought to protect it. In this magical haven birds would settle on Eileen’s head, and deer would come out to feed from her hand. This fabulous book details many of Eileen Soper’ nature artwork a must have for nature lovers as well as art lovers.
“For Eileen, the 1930s were and always remained a golden age, which her father’s engravings and paintings caught to perfection: his prints, she felt, reflected ‘the serenity that seemed then still to prevail on the land’.”
(From Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper, by Duff Hart-Davis)
I originally was given this book by my mother who thought I would love the illustrations for my junk journalling. However, on closer inspection of the book, we realised that the village in which Eileen Soper lived, the village where Wildings was built, was the next village up from where my own grandmother was born and spent the early years of her life.
Eileen Soper is perhaps best remembered for her illustrations and front cover art for many of Enid Blyton’s books, though her nature drawings and paintings, which I was unfamiliar with prior to reading this book, are beautiful.
The book is wonderfully illustrated with paintings, etchings, and sketches, by both Eileen and her father, George Soper. As well as the book being a biography of mainly Eileen, and contains snippets of the letters she wrote, there are also verses of her poetry too. A favourite read was on the subject of her dislike of modern art, which she conveyed in her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s If.
Making my way through the book, you can feel the sanctuary that was Wildings, especially in 1930s, for the family as a whole. There is art, there is creativity, there is collectiveness, and above all, you can feel the happiness. Also, although there is talk of many outings and holidays, there is a feeling of isolation and remoteness, which conjured a strange sadness in me as I read. I felt as if Wildings was set apart from the rest of the world, and those within its confines did all they could to keep everything inside it the same. But alas, the passing of time would not allow it.
Wildings: The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper is an interesting, engaging read, capturing a snapshot of an unchanging, rural corner of England as well as the essence and eccentricities of creative people in general, whilst also making a wonderful record of the life and artistic talent of Eileen Soper, her father George, and to a lesser extent, her sister Eva. I would highly recommend this book to those with an interest in the local area.