Burrell Bill Backed by Scottish Parliament
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Burrell Bill Backed by Scottish Parliament

A bill which would allow items from the internationally significant Burrell Collection to go on tour for the first time has been endorsed by a Scottish Parliament committee.  Glasgow City Council has introduced the Private Bill to secure a legal solution to lift current restrictions on overseas lending which were included in Sir William Burrell’s original bequest.

The Burrell Collection is an outstanding international vision. For more than 70 years, Sir William Burrell collected almost 9,000 items reflecting his lifelong passion for art and history and donated the Collection to his home city of Glasgow. The Collection, which includes medieval, Chinese, French and Islamic art of global significance, has been housed in the museum in the city’s Pollok Park.

Sir William stipulated he would not allow any works to be loaned overseas. As a shipping magnate, he was all too aware at that time of how the works he had collected might be damaged in transit. The Trustees of the Burrell Collection, Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council have been involved in detailed discussions about a potential refurbishment of the museum and the Private Bill to change the terms of the bequest.

The bill will now be put before the full Parliament later this month. Joan McAlpine MSP, the Convener of the Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) Bill Committee said the “time has come to allow the collection to be seen by a wider audience”.

Councillor Archie Graham, the Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council and Chair of Glasgow Life, 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 that the shipping and conservation of such precious items has developed significantly in the 60 years since Sir William made his bequest to Glasgow.”

Sir Angus Grossart, Glasgow Life Board Member and the Chairman of Burrell Renaissance, said: “Sir William Burrell had outward looking international perspectives and ambitions and his collection is truly of world standard.  He was an active lender.  This endorsement, eagerly sought, unlocks huge potential and will liberate the Burrell.  At last, it will allow us to do justice, in our time, to what Sir William achieved in his lifetime.

Sir Angus, a former Chairman of both the National Galleries, and the National Museums of Scotland added: “In permitting real international engagement it will transform the full range of interest and inspiration which this sleeping giant can offer.  It will be a great challenge, but worth every effort and high ambition when such a world class prize can now be achieved.”

Burrell Renaissance will advise on the strategic direction of the refurbishment project and provide advice on key aspects of the redisplay and a programme of international touring while the building is closed for refurbishment. Burrell Renaissance will also develop and support fundraising for the project. Members include Lord John Kerr, former Head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and UK Ambassador to the United States and Dr Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum.

The museum opened in 1983 and the general consensus is that the building now requires refurbishment which will cost in the region of £45 million. The building in which the Burrell Collection is housed, while architecturally distinguished, is now presenting significant problems and barriers to access in some areas. In 2012, some short-term repairs were made to the building’s roof. Proposals will be put forward to the Council for refurbishment of the museum which provides an opportunity to lend works from this internationally significant Collection not only within the UK but also to overseas institutions.

It is anticipated that the museum would close for up to four years from 2016. It is anticipated that the British Museum would be the first stop on a tour which would take in major institutions across the world. Such a tour, would be used to reaffirm the Collection’s international status while helping with public fundraising efforts toward the cost of refurbishment.      

Sir Peter Hutchison, Chair of the Burrell Trustees, said: “We are very heartened by the Committee's endorsement of the plans which will assist us in our ambition to rebuild a home fit for Sir William's incredible gift. We are also looking forward to engaging a wider audience so that they too can appreciate and enjoy the treasures of the Burrell Collection. The conservation and curatorial team at Glasgow Museums will continue to give their skilled care with regard to any item considered for loan and the Burrell Trustees will now be involved in the assessment and selection process.”

Ms 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. The focus of the Committee’s decision in this matter is not whether Burrell would have wished to share the collection through loans (we know that he did) but whether it is safe, nowadays, to do so outside Great Britain. As such, we are agreed that the general principles of the Bill be agreed to.”​

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