ONE of Scotland’s most significant art collections will be able to go on tour for the first time after MSPs last night approved legislation allowing it to leave the country.
The Burrell Collection in Glasgow is expected to attract widespread interest from exhibitors across the world after decades-old restrictions preventing overseas loans were lifted.
The Glasgow-based collection, renowned for the quality of its Chinese art and extensive array of European tapestries, will go on tour while the museum’s building is being refurbished.
Those behind the contentious move said the opportunity to exhibit the art abroad represented a “new chapter” in the Burrell’s history and would enhance its “international reputation”.
Although the legislation was passed unanimously, doubts have been expressed over whether the projected multi-million pound revenues from overseas tours were realistic.
Sir William Burrell, who died in 1958, left his collection to the city of Glasgow on the condition that items were not loaned overseas.
Having spent more than 70 years collecting almost 9,000 items reflecting his lifelong passion for art and history, the shipping magnate’s main concern was that the they would be damaged in transit.
Although a frequent lender of items within Britain, Sir William stipulated he would not allow works to be loaned overseas.
More than six decades on from his death, Glasgow City Council, the collection’s owners, brought a private bill to the Scottish Parliament to amend the terms of the bequest.
Joan McAlpine, convener of the committee which scrutinised the change, said that the “time has come to allow the collection to be seen by a wider audience”, describing it as “outstanding” and of “international significance”.
A tour of the artworks, she added, would fulfil a “duty to the people of Glasgow and of Scotland” to promote the collection.
Archie Graham, depute council leader and chair of Glasgow Life, the arm’s-length organisation which manages the collection day to day, said: “This marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Burrell Collection.
“We now have the opportunity to share some of Sir William’s outstanding vision with an international audience for the first time.
“Glasgow is Scotland’s cultural powerhouse and the Burrell Collection is undoubtedly the jewel in our crown.
“While we take forward proposals to fully refurbish and redisplay the gallery in Pollok Park, we will be able to share some of these treasures with the world and increase the international reputation not only of Sir William’s great gift, but of the city he called home.”
The collection’s museum building opened in 1983. Two years ago, short-term repairs were made to the roof. The refurbishment, scheduled to begin in 2016, is expected to last four years and cost around £45 million, although the council has anticipated that some £15m will be raised by the tour of artefacts.
However, Ms McAlpine said the committee was “not convinced” by such a projection, while her SNP colleague Gordon MacDonald also said he had reservations over the £15m figure, especially in the “current financial climate”.
The Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) (Scotland) (Bill) is expected to receive Royal Assent in the coming weeks.
Sir Angus Grossart, chairman of Burrell Renaissance, which will advise on the strategic
direction of the refurbishment project and the programme of international touring, said: “We are delighted with this formal confirmation and with the strong support which we have received in the great challenge which we have set.”
Already, officials are in discussions with major institutions in north America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is among those bodies to have been involved in the talks.