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Mr. and Mrs. John Julius Angerstein

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
English painting

Author(s):
Odin Alice

John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823), banker and art collector, and his second wife, Eliza Payne (1748 or 1749-1800) were among the first to appreciate the talents of Thomas Lawrence. The collection of the National Gallery, London, founded in 1824, was based on that of Angerstein, which included works by Claude Lorrain, Titian, and Sebastiano del Piombo.

Between evanescence and austerity

John Julius Angerstein was one of the most important figures of the British financial world at the end of the eighteenth century. Lloyd's, the insurance and investment company that would become a powerful firm in the nineteenth century, was reorganized under his guidance. Angerstein was a great art lover, and he put together a collection that has remained famous ever since, as it constituted the nucleus of the National Gallery collection in London. This one portrait brings several qualities together into a superb whole: grandeur (though there is also simplicity), grace and perhaps evanescence (in the figure of the woman and the chiffon draped across her), and firmness, even austerity (in the figure of the financier). The poses are classical, yet the two sitters look neither at each other nor at the painter. Duality seems to be the key to this picture that resonates with multiple echoes. There are chromatic echoes in the clothing of the two sitters (the red of Mrs. Angerstein's belt reflecting that of her husband's jacket, for example), and there are thematic echoes, with the gentleness of the background also expressed in the two sitters' faces. The sailing ship in the background may be a reminder of Angerstein's maritime, financial, and commercial activities.

A noble work from the artist's early years

This portrait dates to 1792 and is one of the first important works of Lawrence's career, painted when the artist was twenty-three years old. He was regarded as a great painter and had just begun exhibiting at the Royal Academy, of which he became a member. This double portrait can therefore be set in the context of the artist's prodigious early years, when everything came together and all his work was crowned with success. Lawrence maintained close ties with Angerstein and would receive further commissions from the financier, 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. Lawrence was even commissioned to produce a posthumous portrait of Angerstein, for exhibition in the National Gallery when it was established. It is easy to understand the admiration Lawrence's contemporaries felt for such skill and apparent facility, by which nobility, dynamism, power, and gentleness are melded into a harmonious whole. Lawrence was knighted in 1815 and became president of the Royal Academy five years later. His later works consist mainly of portraits of politicians and figures of state.

A portrait showing promise of what was to come

The portrait tradition had remained a living part of British culture and art since the court portraits of the Renaissance period, which were generally painted by foreign artists, such as Holbein the Younger. However, it was only in the eighteenth century that the talent of British artists for portraiture began to be recognized.
After the death of Reynolds and Gainsborough, Lawrence became the uncontested master of portraiture. His work reached beyond the confines of Britain to become quite fashionable in continental Europe. He was greatly appreciated by the Romantic painters, the young Delacroix in particular.

Technical description

  • Thomas LAWRENCE (Bristol, 1769-London, 1830)

    Mr. and Mrs. John Julius Angerstein

    1792

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 2.52 m; L. 1.60 m

  • Purchased at the Galerie Boussod-Valadon, Paris, 1896

    R.F. 1028

  • Paintings

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