Penang Museum & Art Gallery is set on the junction of Lebuh Farquhar and Lebuh Light in Georgetown. Established in 1821, it houses national and state treasures that include a collection of Baba Nyonya porcelain, furniture, jewellery and costumes as well as eight oil paintings by Captain Robert Smith.
It is billed as one of the country’s best presented museums, and can be loosely divided into two sections: the permanent and temporary exhibit. The permanent exhibit has galleries dedicated to Penang's historical communities, and certain Penang historical events. The first English language public school in the east, which was established in 1816, used to be set in this building.
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The permanent exhibit is a walk-through affair charting Penang’s history, culture and festivals with a collection of photos, maps and historical records. Penang is predominantly Chinese but with all of Malaysia’s groups represented here, and merging beautifully, the exhibits paints all of the island’s settler groups in sympathetic light.
If you are not sure where to start off, first check out the display detailing the 1867 Penang Riots in the History Room and a replica of the main hall of a Chinese trader’s home. The Straits Chinese exhibition is another thoroughly worthwhile exhibit with a marriage chamber that includes beautifully-carved opium beds, inlaid with mother of pearl, and traditional ornamental outfits including silk-brocade gowns.
The Art Gallery on the first floor has a series of temporary and sometimes eclectic exhibitions: these displays range from works of local artists and galleries of colonial prints to showcases on traditional Malay seamanship and paintings of old Penang are on display. Once in a while special, temporary displays are set up on this floor.
Close to the Cathedral of Assumption, a cast-iron statue of Francis Light sits right outside the museum: it was erected to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Penang. Some fun facts about the statue include the fact that it was not even modelled on a picture of Sir Francis Light but based on a portrait of his son, Colonel William Light (the founder of Adelaide). Also during WWII the Japanese removed the statue but after their occupation was ended, it was returned – minus the sword.
Also outside is a display of one of the original Penang Hill funicular railway cars which doubles as a kiosk selling souvenirs including cool antique costume jewellery and coins. Proceeds from the sales made at this kiosk go to the Penang Heritage Trust.
Inside the museum is a 19th-century bust of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. Apparently, before it came to ‘live’ in the museum, it was originally found in Wellesley primary school: till today no one knows how it first came to be there – spooky.
Penang Museum & Art Gallery
- Opening Hours: 09:00 – 23:00
- Location: Lebuh Farquhar & Lebuh Light
- Tel: +604 261 3144