LEGISLATION to allow artwork from the Burrell Collection to be shown overseas has been backed by a Holyrood committee.
The time has come for the works to “be seen by a wider audience”, the MSPs concluded.
Arts bosses want to display some of the collection’s thousands of treasures abroad while the museum building is refurbished.
But shipping magnate Sir William Burrell, who died in 1958, left his collection of artwork and historical artefacts for the city of Glasgow on the condition that they were not loaned overseas.
Sir William apparently feared the items would be damaged in transit.
Legislation to give Glasgow City Council the power to lend out the artworks, including overseas, is being considered by the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs scrutinising the Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) (Scotland) (Bill) concluded: “We accept that there are risks and ethical questions inherent in altering the terms of Sir William’s bequest but believe that the time has come to allow his collection to be seen by a wider audience.”
They said they were persuaded that Burrell Trustees, who are charged with looking after the artwork, and the council’s leisure company, Glasgow Life, would “work together and act responsibly to ensure the safe keeping of the collection”.
The committee, which was established specifically to scrutinise the Bill, 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”.
MSPs “heard convincing arguments that Burrell wished to promote access to his collection as long as it was not placed in danger”.
The Burrell Collection, which includes medieval, Chinese, French and Islamic art, has been housed in its own museum building in Glasgow’s Pollok Park since 1983.
But the premises need to be renovated, with the work expected to take as long as four years and cost £45 million.
The committee is “not fully convinced that a tour of the Burrell Collection will generate the desired £15 million contribution to the refurbishment of the building” and that it is “clearly not possible to estimate revenue with any degree of certainty”.
Money is “likely to be raised either directly as a result of touring the collection or indirectly from raising its profile”.
Committee convener Joan McAlpine said: “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.”
Sir Angus Grossart, Glasgow Life board member and chairman of the Burrell Renaissance group which was appointed by the council company, 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.”
Archie Graham, deputy 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.”
Sir Peter Hutchison, chair of 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.”
While the general principals of the Bill were backed by the committee, the legislation still requires overall Holyrood approval.