ONE OF Scotland’s most important museum collections could be closed to the public for four years as its home undergoes extensive repairs.
Managers of Glasgow’s Burrell Collection want to put some of the 8000 treasures on display abroad - against the express wishes of its creator - while the building is refurbished.
A special parliamentary Bill will be needed to allow items to be sent overseas, and museum bosses expect the site could then close between 2016 and 2020.
Shipping magnate Sir William Burrell (1861-1958) made the bequest to his city on the condition that his prized artworks and historical artefacts were not loaned internationally. The wealthy businessman and art lover feared they would be damaged in transit.
An international tour would help fund the much-needed refurbishment, while reaffirming the collection’s status as “one of the most important in the world”, argue trustees.
A statement said: “The Burrell Trustees, chaired by Sir Peter Hutchison, alongside Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council, are examining proposals which would relax restrictions and allow an international tour taking account of the concerns which Sir William Burrell had and how circumstances have changed in the last 60 or so years.”
Glasgow City Council’s depute leader, Archie Graham, said: “The collection’s home in Pollok Park is in serious need of attention and the council will consider options for its refurbishment.
“Sir William Burrell left his mark on the world, both as a businessman and as an art collector, historian and philanthropist.
“His gift to the people of Glasgow cannot be under-estimated and we are now working to find a way to make this international touring exhibition happen.
“I am determined that any work we progress will be mindful of his wishes and help to secure much wider recognition for his vision and achievements as we look toward protecting the collection’s home for decades to come.”
The collection was the largest single gift of treasures by one man to one city and is said to have a quality on par with that of the V&A or the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Its largest constituent set of items is of Chinese art. Still not fully researched and published, Glasgow Life described the collection as of outstanding significance and attracting growing attention from Chinese scholars.
There is also a large number of Late Gothic and Early Renaissance works of art from Northern Europe, including tapestries, stained glass, sculpture and furniture. There are also French art items, amassed with the help of the dealer Alexander Reid, friend of van Gogh and Whistler. Other areas of the collection include Dutch paintings, British portraits, Islamic art, Persian, Caucasian and Indian rugs and carpets, and Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts.
The current home of the collection since 1983 has been praised by architects, but has significant problems, particularly with its roof. Some short-term repairs were made last year and there is an ongoing survey of the site being funded by the Burrell Trustees, Friends of Glasgow Museums and Glasgow Life.
A refurbishment would see the creation of extra gallery space, allowing more items to be displayed.
It is anticipated that a tour of the collection would see it temporarily housed in major venues in the UK, Europe, North America and Asia.
Sir Peter Hutchison said: “The trustees welcome the forthcoming refurbishment, which will transform the Burrell building and provide a fitting context for this world-class collection.
“The trustees also support the application to the Scottish Parliament to enable a major tour during the period of closure which would not only assist with fundraising, but would also raise the Burrell’s profile and demonstrate the extraordinary range and quality of Sir William’s unique legacy.”
Glasgow City Council will consider the draft Bill to the Scottish Parliament at a meeting on February 21.