Glasgow & West Scotland

Burrell collection tour backed by MSPs

Burrell Collection
Image caption The Burrell Collection is set to go on tour during the revamp from 2016 to 2020

Moves to allow Glasgow's Burrell Collection to go overseas, against the wishes of the shipping magnate who assembled it, have been backed by MSPs.

Sir William Burrell gifted more than 8,000 items to the city with a condition not to loan them overseas.

Glasgow City Council has introduced a Private Bill at the Scottish Parliament to relax the terms of the bequest.

It wants to change this as part of plans to close and revamp the museum which houses the collection.

The collection, which includes medieval, Chinese, French and Islamic art, has been housed in the museum in Pollok Park since 1983.

Trustees and Glasgow Life, which runs the museum on behalf of Glasgow City Council, have said the museum needs a significant overhaul.

They have outlined a revamp plan which would see the attraction close in 2016 and reopen in 2020.

This would allow the creation of extra gallery space, allowing more items to be displayed.

During the closure period, they hope to lend works from the collection within the UK and overseas.

A specially convened Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) (Scotland) Bill Committee at Holyrood concluded that the "time has come to allow the collection to be seen by a wider audience".

It recommended that the general principles of the bill be agreed to. It will now seek support from the full Scottish Parliament.

Sir William donated his artworks to the city of Glasgow in 1944, along with £250,000 to build a museum to house it.

One of his conditions required the art to be displayed in a rural setting away from the pollution of Glasgow, which he was concerned could lead to the deterioration of his collection of tapestries and carpets.

Burrell died in 1958 at the age of 96, without ever seeing his objects in their final home.

It took until 1983 for the right home to be found, when the Burrell Collection finally opened in Glasgow's Pollok Country Park.

Another condition laid down by Sir William was that the collection should only be loaned to suitable institutions in Britain, as he was concerned about the risks of overseas transportation.

Image caption The Burrell Collection building is in Glasgow's Pollok Park

As a result, the Burrell Collection has been turning down about 30 applications a year for loans of exhibits.

Committee convener Joan McAlpine said: "Our committee is persuaded that it is sometimes appropriate to depart from the wishes of benefactors, particularly if the circumstances which may have led them to adopt a certain position have changed.

"The committee supports the aim of raising the collection's profile and increasing access to its treasures, believing that Burrell wished the collection to be shown."

Ethical questions

The SNP MSP said it was much safer to transport artworks overseas now than it would have been in Burrell's day.

Glasgow City Council welcomed the committee's decision.

Depute leader and chair of Glasgow Life, Councillor Archie Graham, said: "We're delighted that the committee has backed our plans and this marks another huge step towards sharing Sir William's outstanding vision with an international audience whilst we refurbish the building which has been its home for the last 30 years.

"We have an agreement in place which fully addresses the concerns Sir William had about sending objects abroad whilst recognising that the shipping and conservation of such precious items has developed significantly in the 60 years since Sir William made his bequest to Glasgow."

The committee decided against a specific exclusion on the lending of fragile items, saying loans should be granted on a case-by-case basis.

The report said the committee were aware of the "risks and ethical questions inherent in altering the terms of Sir William's bequest".

But they were persuaded that the trustees and Glasgow Life, which operates the museum, would act responsibly to ensure the safekeeping of the collection.

The report also said that allowing the collection to tour other venues would raise revenue, although it was not convinced it would generate the £15m needed to refurbish the current building.

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