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Ask anyone from Glasgow what to see, while visiting their city, and the answer is sure to be, "See the Burrell Collection." That was my experience. This outstanding collection was presented, to the city of Glasgow, by Sir William Burrell and his wife, Lady Constance. The wealthy ship owner had a lifelong passion for collecting various works of art and now his entire collection is available to be displayed for all to enjoy.
Although it is situated in a country setting, in Pollock Park, it is easy for a visitor to get there. A Discover Glasgow tour bus will drop you off right at the door. Leaving a busy road, the bus takes you through peaceful, green pastures where long-horned, shaggy, Highland cattle graze, to find a modern building sitting in the midst of treed parkland. This building houses The Burrell Collection, a world-famous collection of the arts of the centuries.
In 1885, Sir William took over the family business, a successful, international, merchant shipping business. Following the sale of this business, during World War II, he invested his share of the proceeds, and used the income to continue to indulge his passion for enlarging his fabulous accumulation of art. In 1944 he gifted the entire collection to the City of Glasgow, with the proviso that the collection be housed in a rural setting and displayed not less than 16 miles from the city centre and within four miles of Killearn. The objects had to be displayed in an area that was free from industrial pollution, but also, he deemed that these precious treasures must be viewed in a setting provided by nature. The criteria had not been met by the time the Pollock Estate was presented to the city in 1966. In view of the great improvement in pollution control, precipitated by a dramatic change in the industrial base of Glasgow, and the Clean Air Act of 1966, the trustees agreed to amend the terms of the Deed of Gift to allow the collection to be housed in Pollock Park, a beautiful setting which was much closer to the heart of the city than would have once been possible.
An architectural competition was held with the intent of finding the best possible plan for the new home of the collection. Items of architectural stonework, stained glass and the three rooms taken from Sir William's family home, Hutton Castle, were to be incorporated into the building. A total of 242 entrants vied for the honour of designing the building to house the Collection. A group of three architects submitted the winning plan. Construction of the gallery began in 1978 and was completed in 1983. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1983. In 1985, it won both the Museum of the Year Award and Sotheby's Award for the best Fine Art Museum.
The building blended both clear and stained glass, red and gray sandstone, laminated timber and stainless steel into a unique structure. It incorporates the parkland setting by its use of glass all along its long northwest wall. The long open area adjacent to the window wall is known as, "A Walk in the Woods," as it looks out on the thickly wooded parkland, which offers an ever changing vista of colours, as the seasons produce nature's own display. The use of glass, over some of the laminated joists, forms sections of the roof. This provides natural light to certain areas of the Collection.
Vestiges of San Simeon - several medieval portals, windows, niches and other architectural features taken from European castles or churches, have been incorporated into this modern building. These, amongst other treasures, were acquired from the estate of the late William Randolph Hearst. Hearst bought them and had already moved some of them across the ocean. They had been stored in warehouses, waiting to be incorporated into San Simeon, his California hilltop mansion. These items were considered to be amongst the best bargains Burrell ever obtained, as he purchased them for what he considered to be a pittance.
Three rooms, the Hall, Drawing Room and Dining Room, from Hutton Castle, which Burrell had refurbished, have been reassembled in the new building. These rooms, the most important rooms of the castle, sit there furnished as they were at the castle, complete to the smallest detail.
Many of the more than 600 panels of stained glass in the Burrell Collection have been incorporated into the building. A major stained glass window display is inset into the South Gallery window wall, to take maximum advantage of available sunlight. Even the cafeteria has a collection of smaller stained glass panels inset into its windows.
Burrell's main interest was the medieval period. However, his Collection includes a vast array of magnificent objects from those of ancient civilizations through to artwork of the early twentieth century. The central courtyard, under the peak glass and laminated timber roof is a bright open area, which is the home of an assortment of statues. Among them is Rodin's The Thinker, done in 1880/81. The Collection contains 14 of Rodin's works. Here also, one finds a jewel of the collection, The Warwick Vase, which includes fragments of a 2nd-century AD. vase incorporated into a marble reconstruction. The vase was commissioned by Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to the Court of Naples, in 1775. (Sir William was better known as the husband of the famous Lady Emma Hamilton, Admiral Nelson's paramour.)
Passing through the portal from Hornby Castle, an ancient Egyptian goddess greets the visitor to the long gallery, known as "A Walk in the Woods." Here one finds the exhibits of the artwork of ancient civilizations. The antiquities shown here came mainly from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Greece, Italy and the eastern Mediterranean. This exhibit is notable for its variety. Among many other things one finds: fragments of reliefs from Biblical Assyrian king's palaces; a relief of Ramses II, Egyptian Pharaoh at the time of Moses; a statue of Esmin, from the Temple of Amun in Karnak; the Roman bust of Poseidon or Zeus; early Sumerian statues; and a bronze bust of Hermes, the Greek messenger of the gods.
The collection of Oriental art is quite extensive. Burrell was known to have been collecting items from the Orient as early as 1911. Included are ancient Chinese ceramics; bronzes with the patina of the ages; and some elegant jade pieces; unique Japanese prints; near east ceramics and luxurious Oriental carpets. A Chinese polychrome lohan figure, with elongated earlobes which were believed to be quite holy, is considered to be one of Burrell's finest purchases. In its original incarnation this statue was paraded through the streets on holy days. Painted pots believed to be from the Neolithic Yangshao culture are the earliest Chinese ceramics in the collection. In his list of the items that he purchased and their cost, it appears that Sir William paid £32 for a biscuit-coloured, glazed warrior. One would hesitate to estimate the value at this time. A staff member mentioned that a 12 - 13th Century, Korean bowl is one of only two known to exist. "The other," she said, "which is in the British Museum, is slightly damaged." One can tell that the staff takes pride in this Collection.
Medieval European art was Burrell's favourite, as the Collection reflects. He was known to have been willing to pay more for tapestries than for paintings, as he said that you get more for your money for tapestries. There are more than 150 intricately detailed examples of fine tapestries in his collection. A Romanesque, 12th-century Temple Pyx and the Prophet Jeremiah, stained glass panel, circa 1140-1145, are considered to be two of the most highly valued Medieval objects in the entire Collection. Much of the Medieval art and sculpture was made either for the glory of God, or else the objects had a practical or domestic use.
Wide selections of the decorative arts using such mediums as glass, porcelain, earthenware, ceramics, treen, silver and brassware, particularly British arts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are on display. The collection includes more than 500 pieces of early furniture. An outstanding collection of late Tudor and Early Jacobean needlework shows the intricacy of the handiwork done by the ladies of that era. This fine array of needlework is thought to be second, only to that at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The paintings in the Collection are quite diverse. Among those displayed are works by Joshua Reynolds, the renowned British portrait painter; Dutch and French prints; Bellini's Virgin and Child; Rembrandt's Self Portrait 1632; works of the French Impressionists; and the Japanese prints mentioned before.
Sir William Burrell continued to collect his treasures throughout his long life. He died in 1958, in his 97th year. The last purchase he made was a bronze cauldron from the 7th century BC.
Glasgow Museum's staff looks after the Collection and rotates the exhibits. Because of the extent of the collection, not all of it is on display at any one time. The building periodically plays host to temporary exhibitions such as the Chinese Bronzes, The Age of Van Gogh and the Degas Bronzes. Those interested in visiting Glasgow will also find an interesting array of special musical and cultural events happening in the city. It is easy to see why people who knew Glasgow, invariably told me, "Be sure to see the Burrell Collection!" It is well worth taking the time.
Story and pictures by M. Maxine George
For further information about Glasgow and/or The Burrell Collection contact:
The British Tourist Authority, 5915 Airport Road, Ste. 120, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Tel: 905-405-1840 Fax: 905-405-1835
Greater Glasgow Tourist Board & Convention Bureau, 39 St Vincent Place, Glasgow, Scotland G1 2ER
Tel: 041-204 4739 Fax: 041-204 4772
The Burrell Collection, 2060 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow, Scotland G43 1AT
Telephone: 0141-649-7151 Fax: 0141-0636-0086
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