Monument to George Virtue, by Joseph Edwards (1814-1882)

Photographs, captions, commentary and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the photographs without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Left: Whole monument. Right: Close-up of the upper part of the figure. Unfortunately the nose has been damaged, or is just weathered.

Monument to George Virtue (1794-1868), by Joseph Edwards (1814-1882). 1870 (Gunnis 141). Walton-on-Thames Cemetery, just behind St Mary's Parish Church, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. George Virtue was a well-known publisher and magazine editor. His father had been a cart-hirer, but he became one of the top publishers of illustrated works, and then of art publishing. In particular, he became the proprietor of the Art Union magazine in 1848, "and transformed it into the lavishly illustrated Art Journal, which did much to promote the art of the engraver and raise standards of public taste" (Boase and Hopson). This was one of the most important and authoritative art publications of its time. Later, he went into partnership with Arthur Hall & Co., bringing out works not just for themselves but other publishers. A contemporary numbered him among those who,

beginning life without any fictitious advantages, have made success their goal, and, in attaining it, have not only amassed princely fortunes for themselves and their families, but have opened up new branches of industry, and have afforded employment to hundreds whose bread depends upon their daily labours. [Curwen 372]

Wider, three-quarter view of the whole monument.

The Art-Journal was always supportive of Joseph Edwards, taking a great interest in his work, especially in its allegorical meaning, lyrical feeling, and lofty intentions. It wrote up the individual pieces in glowing terms, accompanying the accounts with the superb steel engravings by R. A. Artlett. After Virtue's retirement to Surrey because of ill-health, the family did not forget the sculptor who had risen from a similarly lowly background to that of Virtue himself, and chose him to design and sculpt the monument at the parish church (seen below right, on a sunnier day) on Virtue's death.

The monument is a large and impressive piece, and stands out in this small cemetery. Suitably for someone "entitled to be regarded as the first Art publisher of his time" (Curwen 376), it features one of Edwards' typically graceful female figure in beautifully detailed robes, perhaps representing Faith, looking heavenwards. According to the inscription at the base, Virtue lived nearby in Oatlands Park, Weybridge. His son James, his wife Helen and other family members are buried here as well.

Related Material

Sources

Boase, G. C., rev. J. P. Hopson. "Virtue, James Sprent (1829–1892), publisher; also including [his father] George Virtue (1794–1868)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 4 January 2014.

Curwen, Henry. A History of Booksellers: The Old and the New. London: Chatto & Windus, 1873. Internet Archive. Web. 4 January 2014.

Gunnis, Rupert. Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660-1851. London: Odhams, 1953. Print.


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2 January 2014