Penlee House is an appealing Italianate villa, exuding intimacy and ease.
Set in semi-tropical gardens, it was built in 1865 for JR Branwell, a wealthy merchant related to the Brontë family. In 1949 it was was taken over by Penzance Town Council and transformed into a district museum. Successive remodellings and extensions have turned it into a lively and popular place, with excellent space for its collections as well as temporary exhibitions, of which there are around five a year.
Not surprisingly, the main focus is on works by painters of the Newlyn School – the colony of artists who worked in the area from the 1880s to the 1930s – including Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes, Walter Langley, Harold Harvey and Laura Knight. There are also paintings by artists who concentrated on the picturesque Lamorna Valley, and those associated with Newlyn and St Ives up to the present day.
Among the museum's best-loved works are Norman Garstin's The Rain It Raineth Every Day, School is Out by Elizabeth Forbes, and Among the Missing by Stanhope Forbes. There is no fixed art display, although each temporary exhibition always features some pieces from Penlee's permanent collection.
The social history of the west of Cornwall, Cornish archaeology and natural history are also represented, and there is an extensive collection of photographs dating back to about 1870.