Now the vast legacy of the shipping magnate and philanthropist Sir William Burrell, who collected works of art from all over the world, is set for a new lease of life after one of the biggest cultural projects in modern times in Scotland.
Glasgow City Council, which describes The Burrell Collection museum as “one of Scotland’s finest examples of post-war architecture,” previewed its new look and facilities at the attraction today as it announced its reopening to the public on Tuesday 29 March.
It has led to a £68.25 million transformation of the A-listed home attraction in Pollok Country Park, in the city’s south side to safeguard the future of the art treasures Sir William collected across more than 75 years and ensure more of the work he left to the city can be seen by the public than ever before.
Gallery space has been increased by a third under a six-year project which will allow some of the 9000 works to be displayed for the first time in decades or, in some cases, for the first time ever.
The centerpiece of the project – the biggest museum refurbishment in Britain in recent years – is a new staircase which will allow visitors to explore all three floors of the attraction in the heart of Pollok Country Park for the first time.
The building will have a new main entrance and cafe-restaurant, while its store rooms will also be opened up to the public for the first time as part of efforts to widen access to the collection, which was donated by Sir William in 1944 and added to before his death in 1958.
Sir William, who insisted that the collection he gifted to the city be displayed in a rural setting, had eclectic tastes as a collector, acquiring paintings drawn from five centuries and other works of art spanning five millennia.
Highlights include one of the most significant collections of Chinese pottery and porcelain in Europe, one of the most important collections of tapestries and stained glass in the world, one of the three earliest surviving Persian garden carpets in the world.
The entire collection, which also features, Islamic art treasures, European arms and armor dating from the 13th to the 17th century, including weapons carried by the personal guards of princes and monarchs, and work by the French artists Manet, Cézanne and Degas.
The transformation for the A-listed building, which opened in 1983 after a long search for a suitable site for the collection – was also aimed at turning it into “an exemplar of sustainable low carbon design,” thanks to improved power, heating and lighting systems, and a new roof and glazing.
The revamp of rhe gallery has also acted as a catalyst for the transformation of Pollok Country Park, to improve access to the attraction and persuade more visitors inside the building.
Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken said: “The Burrell Collection is a place where everyone is welcome to appreciate one of the greatest personal collections ever assembled, housed in one of Scotland’s favorite modern buildings.
“Its A-listed home has been repaired and upgraded, its environmental performance has been dramatically improved, new displays have been created and thousands of local people were consulted about what they wanted to see.
“Visitors will be able to see more of the collection, more of the building itself and spend more time in Pollok Country Park.
“We look forward to welcoming the world to enjoy this spectacular museum.”
Professor Frances Fowle, senior trustee of Sir William Burrell’s Trust, said: “Reimagining The Burrell Collection has been an exciting and challenging undertaking, and the results have surpassed all our expectations.
“Works of art are now arranged across three floors of the elegant, newly-refurbished building, giving them room to breathe.
“Not only are many more items on display, those normally hidden from view will now be accessible via a state-of-the-art open store.
“Local and international visitors will be introduced to new and intriguing aspects of the collection through its multi-media interpretation.
“There is a fascinating world of beauty and craftsmanship to be discovered when The Burrell Collection reopens.”
Half of the funding for the revamp of The Burrell Collection was pledged by Glasgow City Council, with the project also supported by the UK and Scottish governments, the National Heritage Lottery Fund and a fundraising campaign.
Sir Angus Grossart, who led the fundraising drive, said: “The Burrell Collection is one of the finest in the world.
“Visitors will soon be able to enjoy its enormous cultural diversity, great beauty and appreciate
the scale of Sir William Burrell’s achievement.
“As a result, its global reputation and international reciprocal engagement will grow further, attracting new audiences to Glasgow to see it for themselves and to gain from the strong program of international temporary exhibitions which we are planning.”
Caroline Clark, the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s director for Scotland, said: “This exciting re-imagining of The Burrell Collection will begin a new chapter in its story, with strengthened connections to the beautiful parkland in which it sits and with the communities nearby, as well as to visitors from across the world.
“The revitalized building now showcases this extraordinary collection in a modern and open space that is accessible to everyone.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.