Watercolors are a distinctive amalgam of painting and drawing, in which color and line combine to produce effects of unparalleled nuance and suppleness. The Princeton University Art Museum’s holdings of American watercolors are distinguished by their quality, breadth, and the duration with which they have been consistently collected. Assembled initially under the pioneering directorship of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (1922–46), the collection today offers insight into broad trends in American art across two centuries while also affording a comprehensive overview of the nation’s rich tradition in watercolor painting. Since 1850 this challenging medium has been unequaled in the privileged position it has been accorded by leading artists—from Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent to Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth.
Painting on Paper: American Watercolors at Princeton comprises rarely seen highlights from this renowned collection, supplemented by loans from the University’s Graphic Arts, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Western Americana collections housed in Firestone Library and from several alumni and patrons. Selected for their inherent significance and appeal, the nearly one hundred objects in the exhibition both reveal watercolor’s distinctive technical properties and provide the context for a review of the medium’s evolution in this country.