The Burrell Collection, Glasgow Life

Burrell tour plan questioned

Sharon Heal, 10.09.2013
Row breaks out over Burrell Collection international loans proposals
Members of the Scottish parliament heard the case for and against allowing loans from the Burrell Collection at a meeting held in Glasgow yesterday.

The Burrell Collection (Lending and Borrowing) (Scotland) Bill Committee, heard oral and written evidence from Glasgow Life, Museums Galleries Scotland, Arts Council England, Glasgow Council and other witnesses.

The collection was bequeathed to Glasgow by William Burrell in 1944 on the condition that the art should not travel overseas.

Glasgow Life, which runs the city's museums and galleries, has asked the Scottish parliament to put forward a bill to allow the collections to tour. The building that houses the Burrell Collection is due to undergo a £45m redevelopment and will be closed from 2016 to 2020.

But according to the Herald newspaper a confidential submission by Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, questioned the safety of transporting art overseas.

The Herald reported Penny as saying that moving works of art had led to major accidents and damage to works.

Bridget McConnell, the chief executive of Glasgow Life, said she was surprised by Penny’s evidence.

“Not least of all because we loan items from our museums’ collection to him. Indeed, he has asked for a Rembrandt from Kelvingrove — probably our most valuable item — for a major exhibition in London next year, which will be held in partnership with a museum in Amsterdam and a range of other collections.”

Angus Grossart, who is on the board of Glasgow Life, said he found it difficult to understand what Penny’s point was.

“At one extreme, he seems to be suggesting that all loans create a risk and that it is therefore unwise to engage in the practice. However, that is inconsistent with his own practice.

"For example, the great Vermeer exhibition that the National Gallery held last year was substantially dependent on borrowing, as is the case with the upcoming Vienna 1900 exhibition. It would be ironic if you borrowed from others but were not prepared to lend.”

He added that some curators suffered from “squirrelitis” and “extreme possessiveness”.

But Selby Whittingham of Donor Watch argued that donors' wishes should be respected and that they were “far too often dishonoured”.

Whittingham said the bill was a consequence of the “vogue for loan exhibitions and for using outward loans as barter for inward loans”, and added it would deprive visitors of works that they may expect to see.

The bill is supported by Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) among others. In its submission it said: “The international loans would develop the image and profile of Scotland, Glasgow and the collection itself.”

However Michael Daley, director ArtWatch UK, warned that loaning fragile, irreplaceable works of art, was “inescapably dangerous and invariably harmful”.

He said that “institutional denial of the vulnerability of works of art” and “a systemic disinclination to heed the moral obligation to respect donors wishes” was not responsible.

The Bill will be put before parliament in January next year.


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16.09.2013, 14:14
So here we are AGAIN being unable to decide the legalities of donors' conditions! And disentangling conditions are , as Northampton Borough Council knows, costly. The Burrell collection is wonderful, it was given on the condition it was NOT lent overseas so please do not do so! However it should NOT be shut away while the gallery is renovated, instead as many of you have said think outside the box ! Organise a plan for the lending and storage of the collection during the years of the restoration; surely some of the treasures can be allocated to the UK's other foremost galleries and museums linking in with their own collections (the possibilities are endless) and for the remainder of the collections organise a storage/STUDY facility (somewhere local) linking up with our universities, museums and galleries enabling sensible research, post graduate studies and a chance for overseas people to come and undertake research on behalf of their institutions. If handled right this would create two incomes: one from loans and one from allowing access. And it might encourage new creative thinking on how to handle the collections in the future. All the remarks on the fragilities and safe guarding of collections are rather patronising - surely all that goes without saying ?!

MA Member
13.09.2013, 23:53
The debate surrounding the terms of William Burrell bequests has elicited a strong debate though calling it a storm in a teacup is an interesting way of looking at it. One of the misap-prehensions that has developed surrounds Sir William's intentions, and the term regarding lending overseas that stemmed from his fear about the safety of shipping during the Second World War. As stated in a previous post William Burrell had plenty of opportunities to amend his 1944 bequest before he passed away in 1958. In 1953, he did just that after two Burrell pictures were sent to Switzerland in 1953, he made his position clear in an letter to Glasgow Corporation. ''The Memorandum of Agreement with the Corporation only gives permission to lend items from the collection to any public gallery in Great Britain. That stipulation was made to safeguard the items from damage. Had I known in time it would not have been allowed. It mustn't occur again.'' In return Sir William received an assurance that ''in view of your strongly expressed attitude to lending you may be assured there will be no further loans overseas, and that requests for loans within Scotland and England will be closely scrutinized, but rarely granted.'' There seems to be no doubt regarding Sir William's position long after the Second World War. This has been the stated position for any requests for a loan from the Burrell bequest, which often received as many as 30 requests per annum and have been until now declined. The issue of transporting item(s) is a misnomer as essentially the standards and procedures for loan items has drastically improved as has the professionalism of registrars and couriers which is extremely high in the UK. There will always be a prospect of damage to any item during its courier trip and is a considered risk with any request. Museums in these times can be ahead of the times and have a element of blue sky thinking as stated before -The William Burrell collection does not have to be locked away for 4 years while the gallery goes through a period of redevelopment. equally it does not necessitate the collection being loaned internationally neither. Let the Burrell bequest be creative within the boundaries of the terms of the memorandum, think outside of the box and draw visitors into this wonderful country to view this world famous collection.. The income stream from such exhibitions would be an welcome addition towards any redevelopment costs and an essential element of any institution big or small. What I wonder has been the cost of the ensuing court case(s) in trying to amend the terms of the Burrell bequest - could this money have been better spent? This extremely public debate has I fear been far more costlier than money to all those involved.
Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
13.09.2013, 23:05
What is this nonsense about 'vogue for loans'? It is an obvious fact that by bringing objects such as paintings together that by historical happenstance belong to different institutions, museums can tell new stories about the objects in their collections. How about some focus on the poor bl**dy visitors and less on which institution the object normally resides.

Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
12.09.2013, 16:48
Compared with the rush to deaccession(Croydon, Southampton and the rest), now encouraged by government, this is a storm in a teacup. As someone has pointed out, travel and transport is light years away from the situation in wartime in 1944.

When Getty wanted to buy Canova's Three Graces in 1994, public and other funds were raised to keep it in the UK; the final deal was that it would shuttle between London and Edinburgh. I don't know how often that happens, if it still does, but that does seem foolish - just the packing and crating on a regular basis must be some risk. But surely Burrell could lend some easily transportable works, not just to fund its renovation (does it really need £45m??) but in order to have swaps, for the people of Glasgow and beyond to see work from other collections in exchange. And Glasgow and the Burrell could benefit from having people elsewhere see what Scotland has - they might then be inspired to see the actual collection in situ.

As long as work remains in the public domain, the receiving country is deemed safe (e.g., wonderful as the Baghdad museum undoubtedly is, it would be sometime before I would suggest lending art), professional advice (and labour in transporting) is adhered to, and collections are freely available to view, I can see no reason why the trustees here cannot move with the times.
12.09.2013, 14:13
I am sorry, but lets state the obvious. The donor has given the items with specific requests attached. That was his wish. For the organisation that now holds the collection to be looking to circumvent the terms of the donation to meet their present needs is ethically wrong. I know travel and transportation is now different from 1944, especially as the donation was made during a conflict that had devastated many galleries internationally but is it really now up to politicians and curators to second guess what the wishes of the donor would be today? It is not an unreasonable condition to put in with a donation is it? Has anybody who knew the donor, or a family member been approached to ascertain their views?

Some people have built up large collections of many types of things that would be attractive to museums and would be looking at donating those collections to museums and galleries, but may want to attach reasonable conditions to that donation (for example items not to be used in handling collections) - I know because I am one of these people. If a museum publicly disregards the wishes of a donor from the past wouldn't this potentially jeopardise future donations? It has made me rethink - why would a museum take a donation with conditions if it has the potential not to honour them? Why do curators think they know best when they are meeting a need at that time, whether it be financial or political.
MA Member
13.09.2013, 23:01
Times change and it would be a foolish curator that stopped the clock and pretended the world is still 1944. If not a single pence of public money has been spent on the Burrell Collection and the museum has benefited from no tax reliefs then you could say that the original donor's wishes trump all other concerns. However, if that is not the case, then i hope we can trust museum professionals to use their best judgement to ensure William Burrell's collection is secure and accessible to as many people as possible who wish to enjoy it.
MA Member
12.09.2013, 09:03
An important element to this debate which has yet to be raised is the inevitable issue of money. I have no idea of the specific circumstances relating to the Burrel's proposed tour; however, I do know that for most important art collections the loan of works can be an essential form of income.

Particularly at a time of austerity, when the state and the taxpayer are increasingly reluctant/unable to support museums financially, can we afford not to lend works? Who is going to pay the £45m required for the Burrel collection's refurbishment? This point may seem distasteful to many but at a time of severe cuts and job losses, which all affect the care of collections as well as visitors, it seems to me a very positive use of the collection while it would otherwise be sitting in store, unseen, at the taxpayer's cost.

In terms of the bequest. Would Burrel have denied thousands of foreign museum visitors the opportunity to benefit from his collection? Would he have denied the museum an opportunity for substantial fundraising? He might have donated a huge amount of money himself as an alternative, but we no longer have that option.
MA Member
11.09.2013, 18:45
I also feel it is important to honour the wishes of the donor, but I question the meaning and interpretation of the term "overseas". Was William Burrell mainly worried about a shipping or air disaster? If so, the Channel Tunnel opens up the possibility of loans to all of Europe and Asia as this is "underseas". I'm not trying to be sly here, but this was a possibility that William Burrell would not have considered, and might have consented to. Without seeing the precise wording of the original document, and knowing if the spirit of his wishes was against loans in general, it is hard to judge.
MA Member
13.09.2013, 23:09
It sounds like another example of sloppy will writing - did he mean travel overseas or be sold overseas? I expect he was keen to ensure Scotland did not lose the artistic resource he had built up and which he wished the people of Glasgow to enjoy.
MA Member
11.09.2013, 17:56
I am absolutely sure that nobody doubts the professionalism that comes with loan exhibitions speaking as somebody that regularly couriers works of art all over the world or would brush aside the wonderful benefits of international/national exhibitions. The William Burrell collection does not have to be locked away for 4 years while the gallery goes through a period of redevelopment. equally it does not necessitate the collection being loaned internationally neither. The terms of the Burrell bequest should be at the forefront of the curatorial and directors mind when deciding what could be achieved..........museums can change and be creative in this instance - what is stopping the Burrell collection being loaned to institution(s) in the UK drawing visitors to this country to explore and delight in this world famous collection. William Burrell himself could have updated the term relating to international loans before his death in 1958 but choose not to and we should respect his wishes relating to his bequest. Only recently there have been instances of councils selling works of art that were bequeathed to them.......................are we quite ready to so easy disregard the terms and conditions that come with loans
11.09.2013, 17:52
When a museum places a short financial PR stunt (such as a tour) over the will of a collector who has been extremely generous donating his outstanding collection to the citizen's of Glasgow (and not the current Museum or Glasgowlife Management or who ever it actually is) there is a serious shift in what museum ethics and practices are aiming to safeguard and protect.
In our modern day of technology and media the collection can be made accessible virtually by investing in conservation, curatorial staff and experts to carry out research, care programs and have a dedicated team of photographers documenting and making it accessible through on-line databases and virtual exhibitions.
This might lead international visitors to come to Glasgow and the Burrell Collection without the need to blatently go against Burrell's last will and it'll be very safe and cost effective for the collection.
MA Member
13.09.2013, 23:14
Looking at a website doesn't have half the impact of looking at the real thing. Lending the works could easily raise the profile of the Burrell Collection and that would be no bad thing as culture and heritage rather than the weather is what draws visitors to Glasgow. The works could tour the UK, but we Sassenachs haven't got any money so we won't be able to help pay that £45m bill!!
MA Member
11.09.2013, 16:00
As a registrar at a national museum, I find Nicholas Penny's comments shocking and bizarre. The National Gallery are one of the country's most prolific lenders and borrowers. Additionally, there are hundreds of professionals around the world, like myself, whose whole purpose is the mitigation of just these risks - We work hard to make our collections safely accessible and visible to as many people as we possibly can, and comments like these are unhelpful.
The matter of Burrell's original wishes is entirely unrelated. While the terms of a bequest should always be adhered to as far as practicably possible, William Burrell cannot have foreseen or indeed wished that his collection would be locked away, to the benefit of no-one, for four years while the gallery is redisplayed. He also made his bequest in an era of internatinal tension, when none of the safeguards we value today existed, and most frieght travelled by sea - a scary thought for fine art. However, the world changes and, as we are always being told, museums must change with it.
MA Member
13.09.2013, 23:15
A sensible comment, at last!!
MA Member
11.09.2013, 14:59
Loan exhibitions are wonderful - nobody would dispute that, and whilst of course accidents can happen, by and large, international Art exhibitions take place without mishap beacuse of high standards of curatorial care. The more important point is that William Burrell made it a condition of the collection that it ought not be loaned abroad. Far from demonstrating any 'extreme posessiveness' by curators, it is others who ought to show respect for the wishes of the donor. Who in their senses will donate if Museums show such arrogant disregard for their wishes? Donations are made by a build-up of trust - and it is Curators who by force of personality and professionalism, have for decades made such gifts possible.
MA Member
10.09.2013, 14:05
Yet again another case of an institution/council blatant disregard to respect the original donors wishes............The collection was bequeathed by William Burrell in 1944 on the explicit condition that the art should not travel overseas. The merits of the arguments more recently put forward are no doubt strong but are they stronger than the terms of the original bequest. Why should any person bequeath works of art anymore with established terms and legal conditions if at some stage they can be reversed and go against the prospective donors wishes