The Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, NJ is one of the oldest collecting institution in America, having started collections around the time that the University itself was established. The college was chartered in 1746, and began acquiring works of art almost immediately, mainly in portrait form. While these works where destroyed during the 1777 Battle of Princeton, the institution remained committed to developing collections. In 1868, progressive educator James McCosh modernized the college and introduced new schools of learning from Europe, especially art history.

The Princeton University Art Museum and the Department of Archaeology where formally created in 1882. The creation of the museum was intended with the purpose of educating in the history of art through original works. Over time, the museum acquired paintings, prints, and drawings then grew to house antique furniture, sculptures, and photographs. The result of such an intensive collective effort is a museum that is renowned worldwide.

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1.Permanent Collections

Permanent Collections
© Princeton University Art Museum

Permanent Collections include ancient works, historical American and African art, classical European art, and contemporary art.

The American art collection began with the college, and under director Frank Jewett Mather Jr., began growing quickly. This collection is now considered to be among the best of all university museums. The museum began with an emphasis in art history, so naturally the ancient history collection is impressive. There are now over five thousand pieces in the ancient history collection, ranging from Mesopotamia, Iran, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Mediterranean.

In conjunction with Princeton’s department of Archaeology, the museum has focused on expanding its collection of historical European art with samples of stained glass, classical paintings, sculptures, and more. Several different styles are represented, from Baroque to Post-Impressionist.

The Modern and Contemporary Art Collection includes pieces in different media, including painting, sculpture, video, and performance pieces.

The photography collection is considered one of the best in the country and was originated in 1949.

The campus collections feature art works that are considered important to the history of Princeton’s traditions. Just the portrait division of the campus collections contains over 600 paintings and sculptures, mostly depicting Princetonians and others that are important to the history of the college.

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2.Past and Future Exhibitions

Past and Future Exhibitions
© Princeton University Art Museum

Remember Me: Shakespeare and his Legacy- This current exhibit features Shakespeare’s originally published works, and is presented by the Princeton Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, Princeton’s Library partnered with the Art Museum to create an exhibition focused on the ways the writer influenced written and performed arts. Pieces from the Arts Museum and rare books from Princeton’s collections where used in this exhibition.

Contemporary Stories: Revisiting South Asian Narratives-This exhibition features the works of five South Asian artists. The collection explores the way South Asian artists fuse their cultural history with current lifeways to create art.

Epic Tales from India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art-90 paintings were collected for this exhibition from the 16th through 19th centuries. Many of these works where originally included in books with text. This exhibit will offer visitors insight to the creation of texts in South Asia, covering sacred texts, stories, and poems.

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3.Educational Series

Educational Series
© Princeton University Art Museum

Group visits are offered for youth and adults. These docent-led tours are built specifically around the interests and educational needs of the visitors, and are constructed in age-appropriate formats. Different themes offered for K-12 groups include: Line, Shape and Color, Classical Mythology in Art, Portraits through the Ages, and a touchable tour for visitors who are visually impaired. Adult group tours are either self-guided or decent-led focus on themes such as American Art, Impressionism, World Cultures, and Impressionism.

For those with a passion for art and who love to teach, there are docent programs available. Docents are trained to lead tours and assist in programs initiated by the museum. While it is not required that docents have an arts background, applicants are required to complete a training program.

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4.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
© Princeton University Art Museum

Self-guided family activity guides are available for download, and are designed to help families navigate the museum while learning about the exhibits. There are several guides available for download, and they are constructed around various themes. Examples of themes for the ages of 3 through 8 include African Masks, Egyptian Mummies, Mesoamerican Ballplayers, and Spanish Knights. Themes for ages 7 through 12 include Ancient Rome, Japan, and Medieval Europe. Special self-guided activities and tools include an outdoor sculpture guide and tips for discussing art with children.

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Elm Drive, Princeton, NJ 08544, Phone: 609-258-3788

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Princeton University Art Museum in Princeton, New Jersey