Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Burrell Collection in Glasgow's Pollok Country Park on the 21st of October, 1983.
The ‘Burrell Collection’ is an art collection that belongs to the City of Glasgow and is located in Pollok Country Park on the South Side. The eight thousand works of art that it contains were put together over many years by Sir William Burrell, a wealthy industrialist, shipping magnate and art collector, who then gifted it to Glasgow City Council in 1944. The ‘Burrell’ contains an important collection of late-medieval art, including a large collection of stained glass and a large collection of even larger tapestries. There are also pieces of oak furniture, medieval weapons and armour, Chinese and Islamic art, artefacts from the ancient civilizations of Egypt and China, a collection of ‘impressionist’ paintings by major artists such as Rodin, Degas and Cézanne, some modern sculpture and a whole host of other artefacts from around the world. Some art critics have been a little ‘hoity-toity’ about Sir William's tastes, but the paintings of the French ‘impressionists’ really are a ‘must see’. The best summary of what the ‘Burrell Collection’ represents is given in J. J. Norwich’s introduction to the official guidebook; “…in all history, no municipality has ever received from one of its native sons a gift of such munificence as that which, in 1944, the City of Glasgow accepted from Sir William and Lady Burrell.”
Sir William Burrell was born in Glasgow on the 9th of July, 1861. William joined the Clyde-based, family shipping business in 1875 and, ten years later, took over the firm with his brother George when their father died. Today, he would have been a great candidate for hosting some form of reality-TV show as he was undoubtedly a great entrepreneur. He and his brother were successful in business by ordering ships during the economic downturn of the early 1890s and selling on those modern vessels for a vast profit when the economy recovered. Instead of trying to cut costs and trim the business, the Burrells ordered twelve new ships, at a time when demand was so poor that the Clyde shipyards were offering giveaway prices just to keep working. Using that method the family managed to become rich and William was able to go into semi-retirement before he was forty. But the Burrells’ didn’t pull that trick just once; they managed to repeat the feat over the following two decades. Twenty ships ordered in 1905, plus a further eight in 1909, were sold off between 1913 and 1916 for big sums. Such financial independence allowed Burrell to devote his time to his great passion, which was collecting antiques from around the world.
The Glaswegian philanthropist, Sir William Burrell, started buying art before he was out of his teens and continued until just before he died at Hutton Castle on the 29th of March, 1958. At the peak of his spending, he was forking out over £20,000 a year on works of art. He purchased from a wide range of dealers and applied his shrewd business acumen in much the same manner that had served him so well as a shipping magnate. He was knighted in 1927 for services to art and for his public work.
In 1944, Sir William donated his collection to the City of Glasgow along with the sum of £450,000 to build a gallery. At that point, it amounted to just six thousand items, but with Glasgow's agreement (and as yet no gallery to house it), he continued to use the interest on that fund to expand the collection further. By 1957, he had added a further two thousand items. His gift was made on the condition that the collection was to be housed in a rural setting sixteen miles from the centre of Glasgow. Burrell had wanted to make sure that the works would be shown to their best advantage and to avoid the damaging effects of air pollution. He never saw that dream come to fruition as the Trustees spent over twenty years trying to find a suitable home. It was only when the Pollok Estate was donated to the City of Glasgow, by Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald, in 1967, that a way forward emerged. As Pollok Country Park is only three miles from the City Centre, the Trustees had certain terms of the deed waived and a custom-built museum was finally opened by the Queen on the 21st of October, 1983. Interestingly, even that wasn’t big enough to display all of Burrell's collection and a collection of his 17th Century Scottish furniture is on display elsewhere, in Provand's Lordship in Glasgow.
Pollok Country Park is a large country park located to the south of Glasgow. Prior to the building of the M77 motorway it was the largest urban green space in Europe and, in 2008, it was named the ‘Best Park in [some parts of] Europe’ in a competition involving parks in Italy, France, Germany, Poland and Sweden. There is a field of Highland Coos in the park and in 2004, three mountain biking routes were opened there by Olympic Champion, Sir Chris Hoy. The park has had its trials and tribulations since it was donated to Glasgow. In the early 1990s, it was the site of the ‘Pollok Free State’, which was created in protest at the proposed building of the M77 motorway. Protesters, including local schoolchildren, attempted to prevent the construction using tactics such as building and occupying tree houses and tunnels. There was also a ‘Carhenge’ obstacle of burnt-out and half-buried cars. The camp failed to prevent the road being built as Bailiffs evicted the protestors on the 23rd of March, 1995. The road cost £53 million, destroyed five thousand trees in a seven mile stretch of the park, and led to fifteen arrests and one injury.