While American art has been collected by the Museum since its inception, the art of this nation was first acquired in earnest during the pioneering directorship of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (1922–1946), at a time when few institutions accorded it significance. As a result, Princeton’s American collections are among the finest of any academic museum. Long focused on painting and sculpture, the collection is particularly strong in portraiture, augmented by the University’s own distinguished collection of individuals affiliated with the institution, and landscape painting, the product of noteworthy gifts of Hudson River School and later canvases by several, mostly alumni, collectors.

Much of the esteemed Boudinot Collection of largely 18th-century fine and decorative art associated with that historic family is displayed nearby at Morven Museum and Garden, the Princeton seat of the related Stockton family. Folk art offers another area of distinction, due substantially to the donation of alumnus Edward Duff Balken’s important collection of such material. New acquisitions, enhanced by the institution of a dedicated fund for the purchase of American works, have focused on building relatively underrepresented areas of the collection, notably still life and genre painting.

The American Portrait interactive explores John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Elkanah Watson.

Painting on Paper: American Watercolors at Princeton

This summer, the Art Museum presents its first-ever exhibition devoted solely to American watercolors. Painting on Paper comprises highlights from the Museum’s rich 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. 

In the Classroom: Picturing Ecology

What can an eighteenth-century Chippendale chest, a pre-Civil War genre painting, a Gilded Age group portrait, and a twentieth-century photograph of lichen-covered rock tell us about our evolving modes of environmental perception and ecological thought? During the fall of 2014, Princeton students considered such works and questions in an interdisciplinary humanities course called “Nature’s Nation Revisited: An Ecocritical History of American Art,” taught by Alan C. Braddock, Belknap Visiting Faculty Fellow from the College of William and Mary, and Karl Kusserow, the Museum’s John Wilmerding Curator of American Art.

Marsden Hartley Blue Landscape

In October 1939, Marsden Hartley undertook the arduous trek to remote Mount Katahdin, Maine’s loftiest peak. The artist spent eight days in a hunter’s cabin at Cobb’s Camp on the shore of Katahdin Lake. There, he made sketches of the renowned mountain for what was to become, during the following, final three years of his life, a remarkable series of nearly twenty paintings—a conclusive artistic efflorescence resulting in some of the most accomplished works of his career.

Nassau Hall Faculty Room Video

This video allows visitors the unique opportunity to see inside the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall and to discover the room’s remarkable history, including its program of portraits depicting University founders and past presidents.

Portraits of a President: A Video Feature

In this video, Karl Kusserow, the John Wilmerding Curator of American Art at the Princeton University Art Museum, explains the unique history of a pair of George Washington portraits and the connections they have to both Princeton and American history.

Karl Kusserow

John Wilmerding Curator of American Art

Karl Kusserow specializes in American art before 1945. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he received his Ph.D. from Yale. He recently completed Inner Sanctum: Memory and Meaning in Princeton's Faculty Room at Nassau Hall (2010) and Picturing Power: Portraiture and its Uses in the New York Chamber of Commerce (2013), as well as an edited volume of essays on early American art at Princeton (Princeton University Art Museum Record 70 (2011)). Upcoming exhibition and publication projects focus on ecocriticism and American art, and the various versions of Charles Willson Peale’s George Washington at the Battle of Princeton.