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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: Miniatures: Brother of the Van Buren Family
Brother of the Van Buren Family


Brother of the Van Buren Family
about 1835
Unidentified artist
watercolor on ivory
image (oval): 4 x 3 in. (10.2 x 7.6 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Elizabeth Spencer
1999.27.71.1
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Learn about American portrait miniatures 26MB


It is not always possible to identify the sitter in a miniature portrait, and research is still being done on some of the works in the Museum’s collection. Miniatures became popular in England during the early 1700s, commissioned by wealthy families on the occasions of births, engagements, weddings, and bereavements. These paintings, elaborately set into lockets or brooches, provided the wearer with a sentimental connection to a loved one. The back of the miniature often revealed a lock of the sitter’s hair, symbolizing affection, commitment, or loss. The daguerreotype, invented in 1839, provided a cheaper, faster alternative, and portrait miniatures grew less popular. At the turn of the twentieth century, with the establishment of the American Society of Miniature Painters, miniatures enjoyed a brief revival.


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