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.