John Julius Angerstein, Founder of Lloyd’s and of the National Gallery
Christopher Lloyd profiles a highly successful businessman of modest and abstemious habits, John Julius Angerstein, who formed a magnificent collection, the nucleus of London’s National Gallery, at his house in Pall Mall.
Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of John Julius Angerstein occupies pride of place today in the Nelson Room at Lloyd’s. He regarded it as one of his best pictures, and took it with him to Rome to show the Pope in order to establish his reputation as a portrait painter. A copy of it was commissioned by George IV soon after Angerstein’s death; and this was presented to the National Gallery by King William IV.
It is appropriate that Lawrence’s portrait of the man he called his “constant and revered friend” should hang in both institutions, because Angerstein was virtually the founder of the modem Lloyd’s of London, and it was on his collection of pictures that the National Gallery was based.
He was one of the wealthiest men of his day, but his origins are extremely obscure. It is probable that he was born at St. Petersburg in 1732 and that he took his name from the branch of a respectable German family that had emigrated there from Gottingen, but it was widely supposed that he was the natural son of a Baltic merchant named Andrew Thompson, who brought him to England as a boy and introduced him to the marine insurance business carried on at Lloyd’s Coffee House.1
Angerstein became a broker and an underwriter—there was no distinction between the two at that time—at a date when the insurance business was at a low ebb, those engaged in it being widely regarded as mere gamblers without any professional code in the sense of moral, financial or even legal responsibility. In 1769 a group of the more respectable ‘subscribers’, shocked by the speculations that damaged the reputation of a vital type of business, broke away from the old Coffee House founded by Edward Lloyd to form a New Lloyd’s in Pope’s Head Alley. Of these one hundred and seventy-nine men, Angerstein was one.