Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

The Burrell Collection is 25

The Burrell Collection, Pollok Country Park © Iain Thompson

The Burrell Collection, Pollok Country Park © Iain Thompson

It took a nudge to make the connection, but the Burrell Collection has been on display for 25 years, having been opened by the Queen back in 1983.

The collection was gifted to Glasgow in 1944, by Sir William Burrell and his wife, Constance, Lady Burrell. Over 9,000 works of art reputed to be the greatest collection amassed by one person. Burrell had discussions with a number of interested parties regarding the disposal of the collection, eventually it was donated to Glasgow, the city of his birth and centre of his business activities, in the names of himself and Lady Burrell. By this time it numbered some 6,000 items, but he kept on collecting, and even made provision for interest on money he later gave to the Glasgow to be used to make yet more purchases. A few years later he gave what was then Glasgow Corporation £450,000 for the construction of a building in which the collection was to be housed and displayed. The terms of the Deed of Gift as regards this building, however, presented difficulties. Burrell stated that it should be within four miles of Killearn in Stirlingshire and not less than sixteen miles from the Royal Exchange in Glasgow. He felt that the collection would appear to best advantage in a rural setting and was also deeply concerned at the harm which could be caused by the high levels of air pollution present around Glasgow. Burrell died in 1956, with no site having been found, but Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald and her family gifted Pollok House together with 360 acres of Pollok Estate to the City of Glasgow in 1967. Although the site lay within the city boundaries (about five miles instead of sixteen), this was deemed acceptable as the location offered such an ideal setting for the collections, and we’ve invented air-conditioning since the original conditions were set, and all but done away with coal as a fuel.

Unfortunately, this 25th year of the Burrell may mark the end the peace of that wonderful setting, as Glasgow City Council decides it has the right to “sell the family silver” and lease the land gifted to the city and allow a commercial eventing company to set up an outdoor adventure feature next to the collection – despite the objections of those who live around the area. Even though it has a financial interest in the venture, it seems the council is free to ignore objections and approve (or deny) the application, and the Scottish Government has turned a blind eye, and declined to become involved in a little local planning dispute.

The building which houses the collection was the winner of an architectural competition, chosen to provide a degree of harmony between the building and its collections. The result is a light an airy environment, which is very spacious and never feels cluttered or obscured. The building took second place to St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, as Scotland’s second greatest post-war building in a list of the one hundred best modern buildings of the past fifty years by Prospect magazine in 2005 (or maybe 2006, two sources disagree and we don’t subscribe). On a purely personal note, while it is all very nice, and works very well, it also has the effect of making things feel very bland, and a little, just a little, less neutrality around the displays would enhance the experience of a visit.

There appears to be talk of a major facelift for the building, so there may be an opportunity to liven it up inside, just a little, not too much, and see if it can manage another 25 successful years.

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November 16, 2008 - Posted by | Civilian | , ,

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