Angerstein, John Julius (DNB00)

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ANGERSTEIN, JOHN JULIUS (1735–1823), merchant, philanthropist, and amateur of fine art, was of Russian extraction, and at the age of fifteen came first to England. At twenty-one he was introduced to Lloyd's, and became an underwriter. His talents and assiduity were quickly recognised, and he was soon an important figure in the commercial world. It is recorded that ‘policies sanctioned by his subscription speedily acquired so great an authority that for some years they were, by way of distinction, called “Julians.”’ His services to commerce were important. By his exertion and personal influence it was that ‘Old Lloyd's’ coffee house was evacuated and the modern ‘Lloyd's’ established. ‘Great public good, as well as private advantage, resulted from his labours in this respect; for the magnitude and convenience of the new arrangement put an entire stop to the transaction of business in private offices scattered throughout the metropolis. … In short, Lloyd's coffee house has ever since been a kind of empire within itself—an empire of almost incalculable resources’ (Annual Biography and Obituary, 1824). Angerstein secured a great benefit to trade by applying for and obtaining from parliament an act which prohibited the owner of a vessel from changing the name by which she had been originally distinguished. Prior to this act it had been a common custom for the owners of unseaworthy ships to ‘re-baptise’ in order to pass them as vessels of good character.

In 1793, commercial credit being insecure, Angerstein exerted himself to obtain a loan of exchequer bills for the temporary relief of trade. This, against much opposition, he succeeded in procuring from Mr. Pitt, and the crisis was averted. Angerstein also devised a scheme of state lotteries, which was adopted by parliament. At various times at the head of the largest trading firms of the city he accumulated a ‘princely fortune,’ and retired (in 1811) from business life to spend his time alternately at his house in Pall Mall and his villa of ‘Woodlands’ at Blackheath.

Of his work as a philanthropist it is worth recording that he was actively instrumental in re-establishing the Veterinary College, of which the funds had sunk extremely low. It was at his suggestion that a reward of 2,000l. was offered from the fund at Lloyd's for the invention of the lifeboat. For the discovery of the ‘Monster’ (Renwick Williams), whose mysterious attacks upon women had so agitated the town, Angerstein offered a reward and worked hard to obtain his prosecution (vide Brit. Mus. Gen. Cat. ‘Banks, Sarah Sophia’). It is, however, rather as an amateur of art than as a merchant or general benefactor that he claims attention. Aided by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and in some instances by Benjamin West, he acquired the collection of pictures which formed the nucleus of our National Gallery. By his will he directed his pictures in Pall Mall to be sold. In 1823 he died, and in 1824 a vote of 60,000l. enabled the government to obtain for the nation the greater part of those pictures, and to meet the expenses incidental to removing and exhibiting them. The catalogue of the gallery shows that many of our richest treasures were secured by this purchase.

As a man of business he bore the highest character; his many acts of public munificence and unostentatious private generosity cannot be detailed. As a collector his name is famous. Sir Thomas Lawrence has left some record of his long friendship in two portraits: one of Angerstein himself, which was presented to the National Gallery by William IV; and another of the second Mrs. Angerstein, who is presented as ‘a beautiful female wandering over a desolate and unfrequented island without hat or shawl!’ He is caricatured by Gillray in a drawing called ‘Connoisseurs examining a picture by G. Morland, and the studies for that same,’ which is in the Dyce and Forster collection at South Kensington. Angerstein died at Woodlands on 22 Jan. 1823. By his first wife (the widow of Charles Crokett, Esq.) he had children, John and Juliana; of his second (also a widow) there was no issue. [Annual Biography and Obituary, 1824; Miller's Biographical Sketches of British Characters recently deceased, 2 vols. 1826, gives an account of the engraved portraits of Angerstein; Young's Catalogue of the celebrated Collection of Pictures of the late John Julius Angerstein, fol. London, 1823; Percy Anecdotes, Sholto and Reuben Percy, 1820; National Gallery Catalogue, Introduction to Foreign Schools.]

E. R.