American Art

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 collection of historical American art is 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 collection of portraits related to the institution, and landscape painting, the product of noteworthy gifts of Hudson River School and later canvases by several, mostly alumni, collectors. The Boudinot Collection of fine and decorative art associated with that historic local family, as well as folk art, largely from alumnus Edward Duff Balken’s important collection, add further areas of distinction. 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.

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

Karl Kusserow

John Wilmerding Curator of American Art

Karl Kusserow joined the Museum in 2006 and was appointed its inaugural John Wilmerding Curator of American Art in 2013. His exhibitions and associated publications include 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]). In 2018 he co-organized Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment, a traveling exhibition reexamining 18th-21st-century American art in relation to issues of ecology and environmental history. He recently edited Picture Ecology: Art and Ecocriticism in Planetary Perspective (2021), and is currently preparing Object Lessons in American Art to accompany a traveling exhibition in 2023-24. He is Associated Faculty at Princeton’s High Meadows Environmental Institute and periodically Lecturer in the Department of Art & Archaeology. He attended Wesleyan University and received his Ph.D. from Yale University.