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42: John Julius Angerstein: The Man Behind the National Gallery

With the assistance of artists such as Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West, Angerstein started to establish a collection of Old Master Paintings. In total, he collected 38 important works of art, some were displayed at Woodlands and others at his rooms at his town house at 100 Pall Mall.

Many of Angerstein’s earlier purchases of pictures for his collection were by British artists. By 1804, Angerstein’s collection, at that stage consisting of only 25 paintings, was said to be the best and most celebrated collection in Great Britain.

Join Hazel as she gets to know John Julius Angerstein, the man behind the National Gallery.

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Show Notes:

Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks London History podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of London Guided Walks, providing guided walks and private tours to Londoners and visitors alike. 

 

John Julius Angerstein – the Man Behind the National Gallery

Born in St Petersburg in 1735 to an old and highly respected German family of merchants who had settled in Russia. At the age of 14, he emigrated to England and started work as a junior clerk at the counting-house of Russia Merchant Mr Andrew Thompson who frequented Lloyd’s Coffee-house in Lombard Street.

 

Angerstein rose through the ranks to become a merchant and underwriter himself and became to be known as one of Lloyd’s Coffee-houses most respectable members. 

Lloyd’s Coffee-house moved out of Lombard Street and into Pope’s Head Alley, which was (unintentionally) to become a temporary solution. 

Towards the end of 1771, 78 underwriters met in Pope’s Head Alley where they each committed to the ‘Plan for the Building or Removing to another House for the more Commodious Reception of the Gentlemen Under-writers’ 

There is a thick leather-bound book, slightly singed at the edges but thankfully having survived the fire of the Royal Exchange in 1838 shows some wonderfully sounding names such as Joshua Mendes Da Costa, Cornelius Donovan, Godhard Hagen, Marmaduke Peacocke. Each of these underwriters committed £100 into the Bank of England. 

John Adams had been tasked with creating two designs; one for the redevelopment of the current building and another for a brand new building on the same spot.

 

The Father of Lloyd’s

After two years of little progress for a permanent home, it is then that the 38 yr old Angerstein, the rising partner of the house of Thompson & Co. suggested a suite of rooms on the first floor of the NW side of the Royal Exchange used by the ‘British Herring Fishery’ Society. 

The Mercer’s Company were the proprietors and had agreed to lease it to the under-writers should Angerstein become personally responsible for the rent of £180 per annum. 

And so the underwriters of marine insurance moved into the Royal Exchange. This is where the name of Lloyd’s was to become world-famous.

Angerstein seemed to have been well-respected by his counterparts; having acted as their Chairman of the committee from 1790-1796. It was Diarist John Farington who described Angerstein as a man ‘When his name appeared on a policy, it was a sufficient recommendation for the rest to follow where he led without further examination’.

 

Getting to know the man:

We know what he looked like – there are several painting of him; the most famous one hangs in Lloyd’s of London. The earliest portrait of Angerstein is by Reynolds, who portrayed him in 1765. There is also a copy, which had been requested by George IV after Angerstein’s death. 

 

Man of Business

His business efforts still ripple through Greenwich, with an Angerstein Business Park, an Angerstein pub and even Angerstein Wharf, which grew so large in the C19th that it had to build its own Angerstein branch line to run goods trains into the main railway line to Kent. This line is still in use today, mainly by the aggregates. 

We can hear his own words from his testimony at the Parliamentary committee in 1810 and I get a sense of him being a very sensible and clearly an astute businessman who knows nothing is perfect, it’s best to be prepared to negotiate, as everything has a price.

In 1803 Joseph Farington noted in his diary that “Mr Angerstein might have been at the head of popularity in the City but has chosen to associate chiefly at the west end of the town’ Lucy Sutherland, Politics & Finance: Diary of Joseph Farington, vol VI.

 

A Man with a Uniform

blue coat, striped waistcoat, drab cloth breeches and buckles shoes. Strange not to see that in portraits of him: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/sir-thomas-lawrence-john-julius-angerstein-aged-about-55

that in the portraits of Angerstein we see him in a claret jacket a cream waistcoat. 

 

A Man of Punctuality

Angerstein was a man of punctuality who ‘insisted on his meals being served punctually, with no waiting for late arrivals’. Portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence wrote to Mrs Angerstein”The Duke of York sits to me in the morning, and after him (an appointment made in the presence of His Majesty) Lady Elizabeth Cunningham. She comes at two but is not usually punctual to the hour. Now, if I could bribe Mr Angerstein’s cook to delay dinner a quarter of an hour and gain over his Clocks to the conspiracy, I might possibly keep my appointment with the Lady, and yet enjoy the company of my kind Friends. As it is now however, too late to wait for your answer to decide me, I will trust my fortune and take my chance of coming in for the soup or for that state of the dessert that may preserve to me my rightful and long established station at the dining room door…’

 

A Family Man

In 1771 Angerstein married Anna Crockett (widow of Charles Crockett and daughter of Henry Muilman (1700–1772) a South Sea Company director, banker, Danish consul in London and Russia Company consul, and Anne née Darnall) at St Peter-le-Poer, Old Broad Street. They had two children – Juliana, who married General Sablukoff of the Russia Service, and John Angerstein (MP) (1773–1858).

Anna died in 1783, and in 1785 John Julius Angerstein married Eliza Lucas (daughter of the Rev. Joseph Payne and widow of Thomas Lucas, a director of the South Sea Company, president of Guy’s Hospital and West Indies merchant).

 

Charitable Work

A man who helped small businesses including Henry Greathead, the inventor of the Life Boat. You can read my blog post about this via the show notes).

A £2k donation from Lloyd’s which was the catalyst for the creation of The Patriotic Fund which would provide aid to ‘animate the efforts of our defenders by sea and by land, it is expedient raised by the patriotism of the community at large, also triggered in 1813 by the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars by the declaration of war against France.

Those behind The Patriotic Fund? No other than our very own John Julius Angerstein and his neighbour Sir Francis Baring (of Baring’s Bank).

 

A Man in Society

In 1774, when Angerstein was 39 years of age, he commissioned George Gibson to build a handsome country villa on the top of Maze Hill, Greenwich with views of the river. Greenwich was, at this time, still surrounded by country estates, who proximity to London made them attractive for both busy and fashionable people. The house was to become known as Woodlands and was visited by George III and Princess Caroline (wife of George IV) and many other notables including Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

George Gibson, to some, seemed an odd choice, for there were more big players out there which Angerstein could certainly afford. Gibson had local connections and had built himself a house on the other side of Greenwich on Loampit Hill, in Lewisham. It originally had 6 acres of land even though that has now vastly reduced. It’s an early example of stone cladding! The building is brick, with an outer skin of stone reputed to be from the old London Bridge. 

Gibson was a keen collector of the arts and had filled his unusually-styled home with collections of poetry (including one ‘The Coronation of Queen Caroline’;’ and ‘curiosities in Art’ from his trips to Italy. The house became known locally as ‘Comical House’. The name would change in the mid-nineteenth century, to the Stone House. The house still stands behind it’s wall, you can get a glimpse of it on the top level of a double decker bus. For a more intimate viewing, keep your eyes open for Open House week in September.

According to Howard Colvin’s Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, Gibson was too much a gentleman to care much for building sites. “He would rather sip his claret, drink his Madeira, chat about Art and Music, and take snuff with a gusto, than ascend ladders, tramp scaffolds to see how Briklayers filled in their work, or truth scantlings of wall plated and bond timbers….[like] the practical men of Sir Robert Taylor’s working school.’ 

Perhaps it was their mutual appreciation of the arts which gave Angerstein the confidence in hiring Gibson? Gibson was also employed by the future Queen Caroline, who was a friend and a frequent visitor of the Angersteins at Woodlands. 

After her estrangement from the future George IV, Princess Caroline first moved to Charlton and then to nearby Blackheath. Antiquary Samuel Lysons wasn’t a fan wrote about her behaviour following a party at Woodland ‘The Princess is grown very coarse and…she dresses very ill, shewing too much of her naked person, ‘Apparently she stood “with her back to a table the whole time, which prevented every other person from sitting, this being the etiquette.’ On another occasion she teased the Swiss artist Fuseli who was staying at Woodlands that the man left the very next day. 

 

Thanks to Diarist Joseph Farington, we get a glimpse of Angerstein at home. In 1804, Farington was Angersetein’s dinner guest. 

“We dined at 6 oClock. The dinner of the two Courses. viz: a Fine Turbot at the top, A Sirloin of Beef at the bottom & vermicelli Soup in the middle, with small dishes making a figure of dishes. The remove roast ducks at the top & a very fine roast Poulet at the bottom, macaroni, tartlets &c &c. afterwards Parmesan & other Cheese & Caviare with toast. – Champagne & Madeira were served round during dinner. – While the Conversation went on He for some time slept, – after He awoke H eat an orange with Sugar.-We appears to consider His Health but looks very full and well.’  

By this time, Angerstin was in his late sixties so perhaps we can excuse him a mid-dinner snooze.

 

 A Lover & Supporter of the Arts

In the lower rooms of the Louvre, which one must pass through after exhausting oneself in the main galleries are the English painting. It is here where you will find two paintings of the Angersteins, both by the artist Thomas Lawrence. Angerstein and his second wife, Eliza Payne were among the first to appreciate the talents of the young artist Thomas Lawrence. His 1792 double portrait of them is one of the first important works of Lawrence’s career. He painted it when he was 23yrs old, during his prodigious early years, when everything came together and all his work was crowned with success. 

Lawrence was repeatedly in debt and Angerstein frequently lent him money, most of which Lawrence never paid back

Lawrence maintained close ties with Angerstein and would receive further commissions from Angerstein including painting his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. The portrait of his grandchildren, titled The Children of Ascoyghe Boucherett, is also in the Louvre collection. 

https://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mr-and-mrs-john-julius-angerstein

 

With the assistance of artists such as Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West, Angerstein started to establish a collection of Old Master Paintings. In total, he collected 38 important works of art, some were displayed at Woodlands and others at his rooms at his town house at 100 Pall Mall.

Many of Angerstein’s earlier purchases of pictures for his collection were by British artists. Angerstein also owned Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-mode and his Self Portrait with a Pug (Tate, London), and three monumental paintings by the Swiss painter Fuseli (1741–1825) of scenes from Milton’s Paradise Lost (I’m not sure if Angerstein bought this before or after Fuseli had run away from Princess Caroline).

 

The French Revolution brought an immense number of works onto the art market and it was at this time when Angerstein became most active as a picture buyer. 

He purchased the giant Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo from the sale of the Orléans collection (1798). 

He acquired Claude’s Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah (‘The Mill’) and its pendant Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, considered among the most famous paintings in his collection via art dealers. It was in the sale of the late Sir Joshua Reynolds’s collection, where he bought Van Dyck’s Portrait of George Gage with Two Attendants.

By 1804, Angerstein’s collection, at that stage consisting of only 25 paintings, was said to be the best and most celebrated collection in Great Britain.

 

Upon his death he was buried with his two wives in St Alfege’s church, Greenwich. He had directed that his collection should be kept intact, unless it remained in this country, in which case, it should be bought by the government for the nation. 

Lord Liverpool was Prime Minister at the time and he wrote to George IV who wrote back confirming the collection should be purchased. That letter is now housed at Lloyd’s of London.

 

The government finally parted with £57,000 for the collection and took over the lease of 100 Pall Mall. In 1824 the paintings had been hung on public display, essentially Britain’s first National Gallery. There is a painting of the rooms of 100 Pall Mall with the paintings on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum by Frederick Mackenzie (located in Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case R, shelf 97, box R). In this watercolour there are students at their easels making copies of the works on display.   

The rooms at 100 Pall Mall were demolished before Mackenzie exhibited it at the Old Water Colour Society in 1834. 

There was one painting which wasn’t sold as part of the collection for the nation was a full size replica of Reynold’s ‘Holy Family’. This remained in the Angerstein Collection until 1895 where it was sold for 280 guineas (Morning Post 1 Jan 1990).

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