The merchant and philanthropist John Julius Angerstein was born in St Petersburg in 1735 to a German family who had settled in Russia. He emigrated to England in about 1749.
Over time he became friends with many of the most prominent men of the day. This list included
- King George III
- William Pitt the Younger (Prime Minister)
- Nelson (naval hero)
- Samuel Johnson (writer)
- David Garrick (actor and playwright)
Artist friends included Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Sir Thomas Lawrence who considered Angerstein a father-figure. Angerstein was a patron to Lawrence and David Wilkie among others.
He amassed a fortune partly from a career in the City of London. He helped to develop Lloyd’s as a great insurance house, becoming its chairman between 1790 and 1796.
He gave up much of his income to charitable work and was active as a philanthropist. He belonged to the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organisation with abolitionist interests.
He also became Vice-President of the London Institution in 1806, a non-denominational foundation which was the forerunner of London University. This body made scientific education widely available in London to people whose non-orthodox religious beliefs barred them from attending Oxford or Cambridge universities.
Foundation of the Gallery
He lived in Greenwich in south-east London for much of his life. Here he employed a local architect to build him a country residence, ‘Woodlands’. He also had a London town house, at 100 Pall Mall.
On Angerstein’s death the British Government purchased 38 of his pictures and took over the lease of his Pall Mall town house. The public was able to view the collection here before the modern Gallery was constructed in Trafalgar Square.
The Angerstein Collection
Angerstein’s collection of 38 paintings formed the nucleus of the National Gallery when it was founded in 1824. He started collecting art about 1790 with help from the painters Thomas Lawrence and Benjamin West.
One of his early purchases, the Rape of the Sabine Women by Rubens, was to prove typical of his collecting habits. He tended towards figure paintings by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, the Carrracci, van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez and Sebastiano del Piombo, whose Raising of Lazarus (bought at the Orléans Collection sale in 1798) became the highlight of the collection.
In 1794, he bought Aelbert Cuyp’s Hilly Landscape with Figures, one of his more unusual early purchases. Angerstein also liked classical landscapes, a superb example being Claude Lorrain’s Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba.
He was also keen on William Hogarth’s work. He owned the artist’s ‘Self-portrait with a Pug’ (now London, Tate) as well as the ‘Marriage à la Mode series. He also purchased some pictures by Henry Fuseli.