Burrell loans

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Tiffany Jenkins’ article about the Burrell Collection (Perspective, 4 June) is based largely on two incorrect assumptions and therefore proceeds to the wrong conclusion. These are, firstly, that Sir William Burrell was opposed to lending, and, secondly, that lending from collections is
generally undesirable.

Burrell was an active lender throughout his life. In 1902, at an early stage in his collecting career, he lent more than 200 works for display in the great International Exhibition at 
Kelvingrove.

Throughout his very long life there are countless examples of loans, some long term, which confirm his outward looking approach and desire to provide wide engagement.

Remarkably, over the last 15 years of his life, at the age of 80, anticipating that his private collection would be on public display, he decided to balance the existing collection by adding important antiquities. He was a man of vision with a real sense of the dynamics of building and evolving a collection, and driven by an enthusiasm to improve his own knowledge and interests.

Lending is not an end in itself, but is an opportunity to widen engagement, in the fullest sense. Apart from physical viewing, lending leads to reciprocal borrowing, shared exhibitions and to a greater widening of scholarship interest and research.

Related items can be reunited, or shown comparatively.

The Burrell collection is a relatively untapped goldmine for research. Next year a comprehensive survey of its 203 early tapestries, recognised as equalling the finest in the world, will be published.

Great collections, and their 
curatorial care, should not live in monastic seclusion.

Of course, lending should be selective and undertaken with the greatest care, and the best advice, always.

The contrary argument, by 
Tiffany Jenkins, if it had any merit, is not established or enhanced by misrepresenting the proposal for lending as intended, to “tout it all over the world”.

Her lack of balance, if not her language, betrays the weakness of her argument.

Sir William’s will permitted lending within the UK, but 
restricted overseas lending.

No-one can presume to know what was in his mind, but in his time intentional lending was handled by ships, packed in
relatively simple wooden boxes, with loading by cranes, held in a net, with the last few feet of 
unloading always representing a serious hazard.

His knowledge and experience of shipping risks was comprehensive.

His firm lost nearly 30 ships, during two world wars. He must have been aware of the fate of the major collection of his contemporary, the great Indian collector Lord Carmichael, lost at sea to enemy action in 1917.

Now, there are accredited standards of the highest care, for international movement, most of which is by air.

Packing is a refined art.

The proposal being addressed, to permit foreign lending, is intended to reflect the changed context in which the physical risks and hazards, which certainly existed in Sir William’s day, can now be safely answered.

The proposal has the support of the City of Glasgow, to which the collection was bequeathed, the trustees of Sir William’s will, and Glasgow Life, which is responsible for running Glasgow’s museums and galleries.

A lengthy involvement with national institutions gives me a strong confidence that the proposed change would be beneficial, and liberate the potential of a world-class collection.

The much-needed restoration of the building provides a major opportunity to widen knowledge of the collection, 
internationally, with visitors and in research.

The building will have to be closed for three or four years while work is undertaken. It would be a grave abdication to consign the collection to store for that period and not to seek to give it the international prominence it deserves.

(SIR) ANGUS GROSSART

Queen Street

Edinburgh