While American art has been collected by Princeton University since shortly after its inception in 1746, the art of this nation was first acquired in earnest during the pioneering Museum directorship of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (1922–1946), when few institutions accorded it significance. Long focused primarily on painting and works on paper, the collection is particularly strong in portraiture, augmented by the University’s collection of portraits related to the institution, and landscape painting. The Boudinot Collection of fine and decorative art associated with that historic local family, as well as folk art, largely the gift of a prominent early collector, add further areas of distinction. Recent emphasis has been placed on expanding the presence of art by underrepresented groups. New acquisitions, enhanced by the institution of a dedicated fund for the purchase of American works, have recently included notable African American, modernist, still life, marine, and genre paintings, as well as works of decorative art.
Museum collections additionally include extensive and outstanding examples of art of the ancient American past as well as Native American arts from more recent times.