Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823?–1896)
Salted paper print from glass negative
19 x 15 5/8 in. (48.3 x 39.7 cm)
David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1956 (56.517.4)
The eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren (17821862) was a seasoned statesman whose own clout was synonymous with the Democratic party's. He held office as attorney general and governor of New York, United States senator, and ambassador to England, secretary of state, and vice-president under Andrew Jackson. Although short in stature, Van Buren was a shrewd political stalwart whom the press dubbed "The Little Magician." By the mid-1850s, however, Van Buren had fallen out of political favor, having lost his bid for his party's presidential nomination in 1840 and 1844, and the third-party "Free Soilers" campaign for the first office in 1848. Nonetheless, Van Buren was just the right type of illustrious American on whom Brady could promote his burgeoning New York portrait studio. The portrait disguises Van Buren's small size and recalls his former prominence as an American president, one of only four living in 1855. The exceedingly large print was known as an "imperial," a term coined by Brady for a portrait that in scale and ambition would rival lithographs and mezzotints.