American Art


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.

Nassau Hall Faculty Room

This new video allows visitors the unique opportunity to see inside the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall and to hear about 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.

American Prospects: Nineteenth-Century City Views by William James Bennett

The English painter and engraver William James Bennett produced a series of eighteen aquatint views of American cities, ranging from Boston in the North to Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf of Mexico. One of only two known complete sets of Bennett’s views, the images now on view are drawn from the collection of Leonard L. Milberg, Class of 1953. It is believed that this is only the third time the works have been exhibited together since their creation approximately 175 years ago. 

Picturing Power: Capitalism, Democracy, and American Portraiture

Picturing Power: Capitalism, Democracy, and American Portraiture gathers together fifty-one of the best portraits from the now-dispersed New York Chamber of Commerce collection in a dense, Salon-style installation evoking their former majestic display at the the group's building near Wall Street.

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.