In 1944 William Burrell donated his collection of art and historical artefacts to Scotland, legally binding that gift with two specific conditions: that an appropriate setting be provided for his collection, and that it was never to be split – even for the purpose of temporary loans to other exhibitions.
Why should other owners of great art consider doing the same now that Glasgow City Council (GCC) – having been knocked back on several occasions – is even now taking a bill to the Scottish Parliament for the purpose of setting aside Burrell’s conditions?
Its justification for this theft – because that is what it will arguably be – is that the Burrell Collection building is now in need of £45 million worth of upgrade, repair and maintenance.
In 2001 that cost was predicted to be £2m-£5m, and even allowing for inflation no explanation for the crazy increase has ever been offered. Having observed the competition between our two major cities for some 35 years it is hard not to think that, jealous of the Edinburgh trams fiasco, Glasgow is demanding a financial scandal of its own.
Is GCC’s hope that by hiring out the key exhibits from the Burrell they can turn the museum into a cash cow for a cash-strapped administration?
Once exhibits have gone can we be sure that we will ever see them again? If they can hire out the collection why not sell the best bits of it?
If the Burrell building is no longer fit for purpose, and the council is trying to break the collection, then the two major conditions of Burrell’s gift have fallen. I hope MSPs will have moral courage to oppose this bill, or his descendants are considering legal action to secure the collection’s return to his family.