First exhibition at the ‘new’ Burrell Collection is open
A new exhibition charting the collecting and legacy of Sir William Burrell and his wife Constance, Lady Burrell, who donated one of the single greatest gifts to the city of Glasgow, is set to open on Saturday 27 August.
The Burrells’ Legacy: A Great Gift to Glasgow is the inaugural exhibition to be held at The Burrell Collection Glasgow since it reopened in March 2022, following a major refurbishment and redesign. It is free to enter.
Visitors will discover more about how The Burrell Collection, which is managed by Glasgow Life, the charity responsible for culture and sport in the city, came to be.
Over 100 extraordinary objects help tell the story of its formation, from a couple’s private art collection to a treasured civic museum of huge international significance, and reveals the dedicated efforts of Sir William Burrell and Constance, Lady Burrell, the Glasgow Corporation, architects, and other key players, to create a permanent home for the magnificent Collection.
Since opening in March, the popularity of The Burrell Collection, together with positive feedback from visitors, highlights the huge affection that exists for the museum and Collection. The breadth and scale of the Collection, which continues to grow today thanks to the work of the Burrell Trustees, has inspired people, from its initial donation in 1944 to its refurbishment and redisplay over 75 years later. It seems appropriate the first exhibition in the new Burrell reveals more about the couple themselves and the story behind the creation of the wonderful museum in which their Collection is housed.
The Trustees are delighted to sponsor this inaugural exhibition of the newly refurbished Burrell Collection. It is a testament to Sir William and Constance, Lady Burrell’s love of beautiful objects and to the quality and international scope of the Collection. It is also a tribute to their generosity as donors, not only to the city of Glasgow but to their local town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Prior to the 1944 donation, the Burrells had rarely collected objects from ancient civilisations. Once they had committed to giving their Collection to Glasgow, Sir William Burrell turned his attention to ensuring it was more representative of worldwide history. The exhibition explains Burrell’s renewed focus on this area of collecting and introduces some stunning ceramics, jewellery and art from Greece, Egypt, and ancient Mesopotamia. This is enhanced by the addition of reference books from Burrell’s personal library of over 1,000 books, also gifted to the city after Constance, Lady Burrell’s death. Complete with extensively annotated pages, these books were crucial for expanding his knowledge of potential acquisitions.
One favourite purchase, back on show for the first time since the museum closed in October 2016, is a fragment of a mosaic floor from 100 BC. Purchased in 1954, it shows a flamboyant cockerel, with golden wings and long green tail feathers, originally used to decorate the floor of a wealthy Roman’s villa.
For the first time, The Burrells’ Legacy: A Great Gift to Glasgow will reunite works the Burrells gifted to Berwick. The family lived in Hutton Castle, where a great many of their treasured artworks were on display and used in daily life. In 1949 they donated 42 paintings to the town, establishing the Berwick Art Gallery. They also donated over 300 decorative art objects, including Chinese and Japanese porcelain, Venetian glass, and pewter.
The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see artwork acquired by Burrell, on loan from Northumberland Museum, alongside delicate works on paper seldom on show for their protection. On show are works including several examples of Japanese Imari ware porcelain, not held in The Burrell Collection. These are displayed alongside colourful Japanese woodcut prints created in the 1600 – 1800s.
The exhibition goes on to explore the search for somewhere to build The Burrell Collection and the competition to appoint architects to create a fitting museum to showcase the incredible breadth of artwork.
During the early 1950s, many locations were considered as the potential site for the future Burrell Collection museum. William Burrell died in 1958 and did not live to see a home for his Collection being built. Almost 10 years later, Dame Anne Maxwell Macdonald, the owner of Pollok House and Estates, gifted the house and lands to the City of Glasgow and it was agreed that the stunning parkland setting was a perfect backdrop for a world-class museum and Collection.
In September 1970, an architectural competition was launched to find a design for the Burrell Collection. It received 242 entries. The Glasgow Special Collections archive still holds many of these submissions, giving a glimpse of the huge variety of designs suggested for the museum.
The Burrells’ Legacy: A Great Gift to Glasgow showcases some of the most avant-garde ideas, including proposals that would have displayed the Collection in a building shaped as three linked cows, while another would have housed it underground, covered with a roof made of five large glass domes, emerging out of the Pollok estate.
The winning design by architects Barry Gasson, Brit Andresen, and John Meunier was announced in March 1972. Taking inspiration from the park setting, their designs used natural materials to bring the Collection and parklands together. On 3 May 1978, the Burrells’ daughter, Silvia, signalled the start of work on site.
One of the final sections considers the ongoing important role of the Sir William Burrell Trust, which was established after his death to allow the Collection to continue to grow. Appointed Trustees provide expertise on and fund the acquisition of new objects, as well as supporting conservation and research on different aspects of the Collection, including stained glass, tapestries, and paintings. They played a crucial role in the recent refurbishment of the museum, supporting the development of new galleries and, in particular, the open store and generously supporting this first special exhibition.
Among the show’s main attractions are two recent purchases by the Trustees, which visitors can view for the first time. In 2021, The Burrell Collection became the first public UK collection to acquire a work by French sculptor Camille Claudel. L’Implorante is the first sculpture by a woman to enter the Collection.
William Burrell also had a passion for the work of Glasgow Boy artist Joseph Crawhall. The painting, A Mallard Rising, was originally put up for sale in 1935. Burrell bought 11 Crawhall works at the auction, but missed out on purchasing this watercolour, the prized lot of the sale. Nearly 77 years later, the Burrell Trustees managed to finally acquire it for the Collection.
It’s been an absolute joy working on this exhibition. Sir William Burrell and Constance, Lady Burrell had a lifelong commitment to collecting, and their generosity in donating their wonderful Collection to Glasgow is astounding. Their gift has allowed generations of people, just like me, to enjoy breath-taking art from across the world and across time. By selecting over 100 objects for display, many to be seen for the first time in a generation, I’ve learned more about their work and got to know the different people who were involved in creating The Burrell Collection. Burrell was such a thorough, prolific collector, we could have shown so much more.
The Burrells’ Legacy: A Great Gift to Glasgow opens on Saturday 27 August, it is free to enter. A publication accompanying the exhibition will be available from The Burrell Collection priced £6.99.