Collector’s great gift to city
WHEN Sir William Burrell gave his collection to Glasgow 75 years ago it was described as “one of the greatest gifts ever made to any city in the world.”
Sir Hector Hetherington’s claim was made months after the bequest was signed in April 1944 and the Principal of Glasgow University’s assessment proved perceptive.
When the building which houses the collection first opened in Pollok Park in October 1983, the international media interest was direct evidence of the global importance alluded to by Sir Hector.
The opening was covered in magazines and newspapers around the world, from the USA to Australia and from Germany to Brazil.
The Burrell Collection comprises more than 8000 items, housed in a custom-built, awardwinning museum.
Sir William Burrell (1861-1958) was a Glaswegian ship owner and collector with a lifelong passion for art. The collection’s significance has grown further since 1983 with more than 10 million people coming to view its magnificent treasures before the building refurbishment began in 2016.
The areas covered by the collection are outstanding representative samples of their kind, comparable in quality to the V&A or the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
The largest single collection area is Chinese art.
This is considered to be of outstanding significance and many of the finest works are currently on show in Burrell at Kelvingrove: Collecting Chinese Treasures.
The second great glory of the collection lies in the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance works of art from Northern Europe, including tapestries, stained glass, sculpture, arms and armour, architecture and furniture.
Burrell was interested in history as well as art, and there are many items with a royal associations, including the stained glass portrait of the Plantagenet Princess Cecily, the Queen Elizabeth I communion cup cover and the christening apron of Prince Charles Edward Stewart.
Other sections include French art, amassed with the help of the dealer Alexander Reid, friend of van Gogh and Whistler, Dutch paintings, Islamic art, carpets, and antiquities.
The ambitious refurbishment of the Burrell Collection building and redisplay of objects will allow visitors, for the first time, to explore all three floors which will be dedicated to galleries, visible stores and special exhibitions.
More than 75 years of Sir William Burrell’s life were devoted to amassing one of the world’s greatest, single personal collections.
The £66m refurbishment will see the museum’s gallery space increase by 35% and public space increase by 83%, allowing important and unique objects from Burrell’s Collection which have not been seen for decades or have never been on permanent display, to go on show for visitors to enjoy.
As well as improved facilities including a café and shops, landscaped terraces will link the museum to its parkland setting, and a re-interpretation of treasures of the collection will also tell much more of a story about their importance and how they were collected.
Sir Angus Grossart, chairman of The Burrell Renaissance, said: “The Burrell Collection was the greatest gift that Glasgow ever received.
“It reflects Sir William’s exceptional achievement and diversity as a collector and his vision that it should inspire appreciation and imagination.”
He added: “When The Burrell Collection re-opens in spring 2021, it will again welcome visitors from around the world to admire and appreciate the collection.”
•For more information, visit glasgowlife.org.uk
The Burrell Courtyard and Eve statue. Main picture, the collection of stained glass
Dr Yupin Chung, curator of Chinese and Far Eastern Civilisations
The collection is housed in Pollok Park