A casket of Pearls, Penlee House Gallery & Museum
A Casket of Pearls:
Twenty Years of Collecting at Penlee
4 February – 3 June 2017
Since undergoing major refurbishment in 1997, Penlee House Gallery & Museum has become one of the nation’s leading regional museums. It is known throughout the world for its important collections of 19th and 20th century British art, in particular paintings by artists of the Newlyn School. A new exhibition called A Casket of Pearls: Twenty Years of Collecting at Penlee shows how its marvellous collections have developed over two decades, through fine and decorative art, social history, photography and archaeology.
Long before this transformation took place, the Gallery was collecting. Over the years it had established an important collection of Newlyn School paintings. The building itself, however, was anything but world-class, being in desperate need of modernisation. In 1997, architect Robert Allen’s splendid and sympathetic extension to Penlee House provided spacious and climate-controlled galleries where the pictures could be shown to their best advantage. The new galleries meant that regional and national museums were now prepared to lend works of art for temporary exhibitions and a changing programme of up to five exhibitions a year was put in place. An ambitious collecting policy brought new vigour to the collections. Since then, people have visited Penzance from all over the world to get a glimpse of the treasures contained within Penlee House.
Director Louise Connell says, “It is fitting that, in the twentieth year since Penlee House reopened in its present form, visitors can enjoy a selection of the wonderful pictures and artefacts that have been collected during this time. Being a local authority museum owned and managed by Penzance Town Council, Penlee’s treasures actually belong to the people of Penzance. And, with a Penzance Pass, local residents can visit the Gallery all year round, free of charge. This exhibition promises to have something for everyone.”
Over the years, Penlee has been gifted, purchased or bequeathed many works of art and artefacts. For large purchases, organisations such as The Art Fund, The Heritage Lottery Fund, the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of Penlee House have given generously. The first major gift was Walter Langley’s magnificent oil painting of 1885, The Sunny South. Numerous items followed, including important Newlyn School paintings by artists such as Stanhope Forbes, Edwin Harris, Elizabeth Forbes, Frank Bramley, Henry Scott Tuke and Thomas Cooper Gotch, all of which feature in the exhibition. One of Penlee’s most recent acquisitions is the Gibson Photographic Archive of over 1,500 prints and negatives by this historic family of photographers, probably the most significant collection of Cornish heritage to be offered for sale in the past ten years.
Staff and volunteers at Penlee House have also contributed to the exhibition by choosing their favourite pieces to be included in the show.
A Casket of Pearls: Twenty Years of Collecting at Penlee is at Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance from 4 February – 3 June 2017.