Here’s a name I’ve found cropping up frequently as I meander aimlessly through the corridors of London history. First time was about a year ago at the fabulous Sir Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Angerstein was a patron and friend of the portrait genius, and sat for him several times. Amazingly, he was also remembered in oils by Sir Joshua Reynolds almost thirty years earlier in 1765 – some feat.
John Julius Angerstein (c1732 – 1823) was born in Russia, nobody seems quite sure when. He arrived in London in his teens and got a job in the counting house of Andrew Poulett Thompson, a Russia merchant widely believed to be the lad’s father.
Like many a London magnate, Angerstein made his fortune in marine insurance. He became well-established as a successful broker in the 1760s. During his career he was a partner in many brokerages and by the time he retired in 1810, he was handling over 200 accounts. He was instrumental in securing premises for the New Lloyds Coffee House at the Royal Exchange, an institution normally not particularly welcoming to brokers. In fact, it was largely thanks to Angerstein that marine insurance emerged from its murky past of coffee house operators of dubious practice to respected pillars of the financial community.
Angerstein was a very sociable man. Despite lacking the classical education of most contemporary movers and shakers, he was well-liked and a frequent fixture in the salons of London society: money talks. Although sober of habit and dress, he didn’t mind splashing the cash. He had handsome properties in Pall Mall and Blackheath, but more important than this he was a collector of fine art and a patron of artists. Angerstein’s collection, which included masterpieces by Titian, Poussin, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez, and Van Dyck, was acquired by the government in 1824 to form the ballast of the new National Gallery.
He lived to a very ripe age of 91. Ish. He is buried at the lovely Hawksmoor church of St Alfege in Greenwich, where he had served as a churchwarden.
Quite interesting aside: Angerstein put up most of the reward money to apprehend the so-called Newgate Monster in 1790.
Source: Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required), profile by Sarah Palmer.