The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings
Explore Singapore’s history through a vibrant collection of natural history drawings at the Goh Seng Choo Gallery
The newly re-opened Goh Seng Choo Gallery at the National Museum of Singapore offers a captivating way to approach Singapore's history. It is dedicated to The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, which comprises 477 watercolour paintings, and encapsulates the spirit of exploration that was so evident in Singapore's first Resident and Commandant from 1819 to 1823.
"One of the significant things about this collection is that it gives us a good idea of the flora and fauna of the Malay Peninsula in the early 19th century, so it's a very valuable selection in that sense," says Daniel Tham, assistant curator, Curation and Collections at the National Museum of Singapore. The remarkably well-preserved collection has made its own historical journey since Farquhar left the island with it in 1823 - it was donated to the Royal Asiatic Society in London, and eventually purchased by Goh Geok Khim in 1993 for about S$3million at a Sotheby's auction. Named after his father, the Goh Seng Choo Gallery will showcase about 70 drawings at any one time, with rotations scheduled once a year.
Oriental Bay Owl; Pepper
The drawings were not personally made by Farquhar himself, but instead were commissioned to artists that were believed to have been the local Chinese. Hence, one could observe a visible tension between the realism of Farquhar's scientific aspirations and the artists' aesthetic flair. Look closer, too, at the inscriptions on the drawings, which offer further insight into the explorers' interests at the time. To open this vibrant collection, the drawings are presented in four main sections - Spirit of Exploration; Experimental Gardening; Art and Science of Natural History; and a Centre Showcase.
As Tham notes, the gallery is laid out almost like a garden, with images of flora lining the walls and flanking depictions of Farquhar's zoological discoveries. In fact, it should be noted that zoology was Farquhar's foremost interest, with a particular love of birds, and he was involved in the discovery and identification of several indigenous species including the Malayan tapir and binturong, or bearcat. His album of drawings of various types of fish from Melaka also made a significant contribution - in July 1829, this album was loaned as a study reference to the French naturalist, Baron Cuvier, recognised by many as the founder of palaeontology.
The Goh Seng Choo Gallery is the National Museum's sixth permanent gallery, and opens today with The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.nationalmuseum.sg