Sir Thomas Lawrence, Mrs. John Julius Angerstein

Sir Thomas Lawrence: Mrs. John Julius Angerstein   (Undated) Oil on canvas
Mrs. John Julius Angerstein
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Bequest of Charles Knox Smith
76 x 52 in.

Sir Thomas Lawrence enjoyed the patronage of John Julius and Elizabeth Angerstein, who were successful English merchants in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Mrs. Angerstein’s active pose and purposeful gaze suggest a woman who is both elegant and alert. The spacious composition of unfolding landscape and distant sea confers an aristocratic gravitas: she owns her world as surely as she and her husband own the boat that floats on the sea at right. The Angerstein’s wealth came largely from selling marine insurance, but they were involved in other ventures, including mercantile finance, the creation of Lloyds of London (a business that continues to thrive today) and the slave trade. It is difficult and even painful for us, as American citizens of the twenty-first century, to reconcile the seeming creativity and capabilities of historic figures such as the Angersteins with the cataclysm of trafficking in the enslavement of fellow humans.  

The Angersteins were art collectors. They began collecting art with the help of Sir Thomas Lawrence, the painter of this portrait, and American painter Benjamin West, whose painting The Death of Sir Philip Sidney hangs in Woodmere’s Founder’s Gallery. Their collection included work by old masters, such as Claude Lorrain, Titian, and Sebastian Del Piombo, among others. Their art collection was purchased by the British government and formed the nucleus of the National Gallery of Art in London.

Lawrence also painted a double portrait of the Angersteins, now in the Musée du Louvre in Paris; in that piece, the pose of Mrs. Angerstein is the same, mimicking the composition of this painting almost exactly.

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