IT AIN'T WHAT YOU DO......
According to a writer in BUSINESS magazine in October 1987 it was the opening of The Burrell Collection of more than 8,000 works of art in 1983 that put Glasgow on the international cultural map. Some have claimed that the presence of the collection contributed significantly to the decision to award Glasgow the title of European City of Culture in 1990.
The New York Times described the collection as one of the most remarkable assemblages of works of art ever brought together.
A case history of the publicity project is the only one of its kind in the University of Glasgow library. It was presented to the Principal Sir Alwyn Williams by Lord Provost Robert Gray. The project also won me an award in the Institute of Public Relations Sword of Excellence Awards
Barry Gasson, the young architect who led the team who designed the Burrell gallery and was later appointed an O.B.E., wrote to me, Thank you for all your support in ensuring the gallery's success. A letter from Alasdair Auld, Glasgow's Director of Museums, said, Without your expertise we could not have made such an impact on the world.
It was a strike of postmen in 1972 which made Gasson and two associates famous as the designers of the Burrell gallery, which became known on every continent even before it opened. Less than a year after the opening by the Queen on October 21, 1983 the millionth visitor passed under the 16th century archway into the courtyard of the gallery.
The design for The Burrell Collection had been put out to competition but Gasson, a Cambridge lecturer in architecture, John Meunier, and Brit Andresen, had not finished their submission by the deadline date. "Then the date was extended because of a strike of postmen and we were able to send in our entry," said Gasson later.
The gallery continues to be one of Glasgow's major tourist attractions. Nowadays it has about half a million visitors a year. My instruction from the council at the beginning of 1983 was "to publicise the opening of The Burrell Collection." That was it. A few paragraphs would have done it.
After all, the story of Sir William's gift to the city had been written about for decades. And then there were all the stories during the building of the gallery, including some of my own. What else was there to say, except who was going to open it. If it was the Queen as we hoped that would merit another few paragraphs nearer the opening date.
We already had about five museums and apart from the Scottish news media who would be interested in another one? Then I thought what the hell, I think I'll try something different. After all, as the old song says, It Ain't What You Do, It's The Way That You Do It.
I decided that here was an opportunity to tell the world that Glasgow had a unique art collection and that the city was a major cultural centre and no longer the grimy, grim-faced, slum ridden, polluted city of bygone days.
At a special meeting of council hierarchy and the director of finance in his office I had asked for £10,000 to publicise the opening of the gallery. One councillor, Hugh Macrae, who had always been friendly towards me, said the job couldn't be done for as little as that and that I should get £15,000 although neither of us had the slightest idea how much the operation would cost. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the first time in the history of the world that a council official had been given more than he asked for. As it happened I didn't spend more than £9000.
Researching the story involved council records going back to 1944, newspaper stories throughout the decades, Hansard for references to the collection by Members of Parliament, and interviews with current and former members of staff of the museums and arts galleries department.
Material was prepared in four parts.
The story of how The Burrell Collection was given to Glasgow and the search
for a suitable home for it.
Personalities involved with the collection in the four decades since it was given to the city Previous art collections bought by or given to the city which had cotributed to its reputation as an important art centre
Description of the Burrell building.
All this turned out to be a press release of more than 3,000 words, breaking every possible rule of Public Relations which decrees that a press release should nornally not exceed a couple of pages otherwise no-one would bother to read it. I expect that's quite true because most press releases are rubbish.
One Sunday morning I got up at 7 o'clock and went into the City Chambers to set up a picture of me in the banqueting hall surrounded by 500 press packs, each containing the story and four black and white prints and four colour transparencies. Alasdair Auld later sent me a bill for £2000 for the pictures which I thought was rather unsporting of him in view of the fact that I was publicising his museum throughout the world.
Alasdair, at all times a gracious and civilised man, told me later that he had only a small promotional budget and he, too, had his priorities, which I suppose was reasonable enough although I was a bit annoyed at the time.
Setting up the picture in the banqueting hall took nearly three hours. Then I went round to the Glasgow Herald office and said to whoever was on the picture desk, "I've got a great picture set up. Can you get someone to come round to the chambers with me."
"Aw, Harry, give us peace. You and your bloody pictures," was the response.
"I'm telling you this is a good one. You'll be sorry if you don't get it."
Eventually the man on the picture desk told Ian Hossack, the photographer on early duty that day, to go with me. After he had taken the picture I said to Ian, "Would you like to help me pick up the packs?"
"Aye, that'll be right, Harry. I've got more important things to do," so I spent another two hours picking them all up again.
It would be impossible to track down the number of publications that picture appeared in throughout the world. The press pack went to everyone at home and abroad likely to be interested in the story. A month before the gallery opened I flew a plane load of London-based foreign correspondents to Glasgow to see the gallery, and whatever else the city had to offer.
Among the correspondents were Mary Cronin of Time Life News Service, Gaia Servadio of La Stampa, Turin, Su Jinhu of Xinhua News Agency, China, Dan Ehrlich of the San Francisco Examiner, Adel Mourad of At-tadamon, which circulated in 22 Arab states, Siegfried Helm of the German Springer group of newspapers, Diana Decker of the New Zealand Associated Press, and many others.
During August and September The Burrell Collection was visited by about 250 news media people from newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations throughout Britain and overseas. Television documentaries and radio features were prepared by most of the major television organisations.
After the opening many of the foreign correspondents wrote to me. Dirk de Villiers of Argus South African Newspapers said, It makes the job of the foreign correspondent, or any journalist, so much easier to receive information so clearly and readably set out...my report will follow it closely!
Su Jinhu wrote, It was an unforgettable experience in Glasgow. It was a great pleasure to meet you and your colleagues. Patricia Morgan of the Herald and Weekly Times, Australia, said, I was extremely delighted to have the opportunity to see such a wonderful collection and its superb new home.
On January 9, 1994, just over a decade after the opening of The Burrell Collection, a leader in The Scotsman about a National Gallery of Scottish Art which is to be built in Glasgow, said, The proven track record of the Burrell in gaining international recognition from a standing start is second to none.
I think some of that press release in August 1983 is worth reproducing.
GLASGOW REVEALS ITS
On October 21 in a shaded corner of a field in a 361Þacre parkland estate only three miles from the centre of Glasgow the Queen will open The Burrell Collection museum and one of the most difficult problems of its kind any city has faced will finally be resolved.
After almost four decades one of the largest art collections ever assembled by one man and the largest ever given to a single city will at last have a permanent home.
The Burrell Collection has become part of Glasgow's folklore. It contains more than 600 paintings in oils, watercolours, and pastels by French, Dutch, Italian, British, Flemish and German masters.
There are works by Degas, Cezanne, Manet, Rembrandt, De Heem, Kalf, Maris, Bellini, Joseph Crawhall, Thomas Hudson, William McTaggart, John Lavery, Sir Henry Raeburn, McNeill Whistler, Memlinc, and Lucas Cranach.
There are collections of Chinese pottery, porcelain, and jades, Persian pottery and metalwork, gold, silver, bronzes, carpets, furniture, two of the finest collections of stained glass and tapestries in the world, and artifacts from the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome.
All of this, and much more, was brought together by Sir William Burrell, a Glasgow shipowner, and it took him 80 years to do it. The collection is so large that not even the new art gallery and museum, one of the largest built in Britain this century, occupying 137,241 square feet, is big enough to display more than 40% of The Burrell Collection at one time.
Alasdair Auld, director of Glasgow's six major civic museums and art galleries, include the Burrell Collection, says, "It will be years before we are able to rotate items in the collection so that everything will have been seen."
Auld was a 13-year-old schoolboy in Edinburgh "with inclinations towards art" when Sir William Burrell gave 6000 art treasures to Glasgow in 1944 in the name of himself and Lady Burrell. His deed of gift specified that a gallery to house the collection should be built within four miles of Killearn, Stirlingshire, and not less than 16 miles from the Royal Exchange in the centre of Glasgow.
Sir William laid down these conditions because he felt his collection would look better in a rural setting but he was also worried about the harm to the treasures which could be caused by the belching, corrosive fumes of thousands of domestic and factory chimneys which clouded the air over a heavily industrial Glasgow.
But a museum containing an art collection of such importance 16 miles from the city would not have been easy for the city council to administer. Nor would it have given much pleasure to the people of Glasgow who could hardly have been expected to travel in their thousands so far to see it.
Seven years later in 1951, after considerable persuasion, Sir William relented and agreed to a site at Dougalston estate, Milngavie, which had been left to the city and was only seven miles from the city centre, but the National Coal Board said they were planning to develop coalmining in the area and Sir William immediately banned the site.
Attention then turned to Mudgock Castle, also near Milngavie, but despite endless discussion and volumes of correspondence the problem was still no nearer solution when Sir William died in 1958 at the age of 96, leaving another 2000 treasures to the city, making the problem even more difficult, if that were possible.
But independent forces were at work which were to rescue Glasgow from its unique dilemma. In 1956 the government had passed the Clean Air Act which compelled the country's cities to tackle the problem of air pollution and in 1959 Glasgow began a campaign which was to make it one of the cleanest cities in Britain.
Then in 1967 another act of munificence from one of the city's daughters this time, paved the way for what will become one of Britain's finest galleries. Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald, daughter of the late Sir John Stirling Maxwell, the 10th baronet, gave to the city an estate which had been in her family for 700 years - and it was only three miles from the centre of Glasgow.
The Trustees of The Burrell Collection agreed that Pollok Estate was an ideal location for the Burrell treasures and plans for a gallery to house it were allowed to be made. A nationwide competition was sponsored by Glasgow Corporation and was won in 1972 by Barry Gasson, a young Cambridge lecturer, and two associates, John Meunier and Brit Andresen.
In June 1977 Glasgow District Council (the name of the authority changed with the reform of local government a few years earlier) agreed to put out to tender the contract for building a home for The Burrell Collection after an agreement from the government that it would make a considerable contribution towards the cost of building the museum.
In January 1978 the council awarded the contract to Taylor Woodrow Construction (Scotland) Limited and on May 3 Miss Silvia Burrell, Sir William's daughter, pressed a button on a bulldozer and a home for The Burrell Collection started to become a reality.
The museum was to cost £12.3 million and take three and a half years to build but as Robert Burns wrote more poetically the best laid schemes of mice and men often go wrong and the museum took nearly five years to build and cost œ20.6 million.
Poor weather, constantly rising prices, the complexities of perfecting a variety of mechanical and electronic systems adequately to store, protect, and display to its best advantage one of the world's most remarkable art collections all contributed to the delay.
Sir William had left Glasgow £450,000 towards the cost of building a gallery for his treasures and the interest from this money helped the Burrell Trustees to buy other treasures to add to the collection. One of these was The Warwick Vase, a second century vessel unearthed near Rome 200 years ago by the Scots painter and archaeologist Gavin Hamilton and of which Napoleon Bonaparte said if he had been successful in conquering England...the first thing he would have taken possession of was The Warwick Vase.
The vase was bought in 1979 for £253,808 to stop it going to the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The Burrell Trustees were assisted to raise the purchase price by the Scottish Heritage Fund, the National Art Collections Fund, and the Carnwath Trust. It has already been on show in Glasgow's famous Museum of Transport because it had, at the time, the only floor strong enough to support its nine tons.
Thousands of words have been written about The Burell Collection by newspaper and magazine writers and by radio and television scriptwriters, ironically because Burrell would never talk to a newspaperman about any of his acquisitions. Nearly all of the scribes have insisted on putting a cash value on the collection because it makes good headlines. In recent years the more enthusiastic writers have put figures like £40 million, £60 million, and even £100 million on the collection. The figure of £100 million is the one mostly used by the news media because I gave it to them after countless requests for a figure.
I have to confess that I made it up because the true figure will never be known. The army of specialists necessary are not likely to be assembled to appraise the 8000-odd treasures, and even if they were their evaluations would be no more than informed guesses.
Richard Marks, Master of Arts, Doctor of Philosophy, author of an 80,000-word thesis on English medieval stained glass, who was appointed Assistant Director of Glasgow's Museums and Art Galleries and Keeper of The Burrell Collection in 1979, says simply, "I am not a valuer but as far as I am concerned the collection is priceless."
William Burrell is said to have bought his first painting at the age of 15 with a few shillings his father gave him to buy a cricket bat. He never stopped buying art objects for the next 80 years. He and his older brother George took over the family shipping firm when their father William died in 1885.
For very sound business reasons Burrell sold his shipping firm twice. The first time was in 1899 when he decided to spend some of his spare time as a Glasgow town councillor. He served for seven years during which he naturally took a great interest in the city's artistic affairs but he also served on the council's sub-committee on housing in which he made rather less impact.
Being the good businessman he was, the Burrell shipping empire was soon restored but he sold it again in 1917 to devote most of his time to his art collection. The shipping business finally closed in 1939.
Because of the size of the collection Burrell could not contain it all at Hutton Castle so much of it was scattered throughout museums and cathedrals around Britain. Luckily Burrell kept meticulous records so it was not difficult for Glasgow city council to track it all down.
The Burrell Collection compares favourably with the great American collections of Henry Clay Crick, J Pierpont Morgan, and Andrew Mellon, but Burrell was a canny Scot with an asture eye who paid a lot less than his transatlantic counterparts for his collection. In 1947 for instance he bought a 14th century Chinese porcelain vase for œ85. It is now estimated to be worth £250,000. Other ceramic items Sir William bought for £10 are now valued at £150,000.
Sir John Rothenstein, one of Britain's most distinguished art historians and a former director of London's Tate Gallery, says, "Burrell was a collector of vast perception. The addition of The Burrell Collection to Glasgow's other museums and art galleries gives the city an honoured place among the great art centres of Europe."
Sir John reveals that Burrell considered giving his collection to the Tate Gallery, but the Tate, to their "intense regret" couldn't take it because of its enormous size and range.
Ironically the people of Glasgow, who are the real owners of the Burrell Collection, have never seen much of it. Because of its great value and the lack of a home for it the collection has been hidden in a variety of buildings throughout Glasgow for the past four decades. Items of one kind or another have beenincluded in various exhibitions but not a lot of it has been seen in Scotland at any one time. The biggest exhibition of Burrell treasurers was held in London's Hayward Gallery for seven weeks in 1975.
The Burrell Collection is only two or three hundred yards from
Pollok House, once the home of a long line of Maxwell baronets, one of whom, William Stirling-Maxwell, the ninth baronet, last century amassed one of the largest and most important collection of Spanish paintings in Britain. This also came to the city from Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald in l967.
The monument to one of Glasgow's greatest benefactors blends an art gallery of the late 20th century with its modern design, space-age technology in lighting, heating, and air-conditioning, with stone arches and doorways and stained glass windows painstakingly fashioned by crafsmen hundreds of years ago. Incorporated in the building are 15 archways which Burrell bought because he thought they would be useful for that very purpose.
Some of them came from the estate of William Randolph Hearst, founder of the American newspaper empire, and had originally been part of Hornby Castle in Yorkshire, but Hearst kept them in a warehouse in Wales because he didn't know what to do with them. One of them, a 12th century stone archway 15 1/2 feet high cost Hearst £5000. He shipped it to America, couldn't find a use for it, and shipped it back to Britain. Burrell later bought it for one tenth of what it cost Hearst.
The entrance to the Burrell building is a 13-feet high early 16th century archway which leads into a glazed courtyard. The entrance to the collection itself is the Hornby portico, a 26-feet high English Renaissance doorway which weighs 26 tons.
The Burrell building incorporates reproductions of three rooms from Hutton Castle, near Berwick-on-Tweed, where Sir William and Lady Burrell moved in 1927. These are the drawing room, hall, and dining room, each furnished in the original manner and with some of the original woodwork.
The building also has storage for the many items not on display, a restaurant, lecture theatre, a room for children's activities, library, photographic studio, and even living quarters for visiting scholars.
Barry Gasson, one of the original designers of the building, now has his own architect's company in Glasgow and has been working closely with the builders of the new gallery in the past few years. Meunier is a professor of architecture in Cincinatti in the United States and Andresen is a teacher in Australia.
Gasson, now 43, is a graduate of Birmingham School of Architecture. After a year in private practice he was awarded an English Speaking Union Fellowship to Columbia University in New York for two years. This was followed by two years in the Park Avenue architectural practice of Philip Johnson where projects he worked on included a ballet theatre for the Lincoln Centre, an extension to the New York Museum of Modern Art, and laboratories for Yale University.
He has been working on the Burrell project since 1972. "A unique experience. I doubt if I will see its like again," he says.
Whether he does or not his place in the architectural firmament os assured. Six months before the museum was due to open Gasson received the Royal Scottish Academy Gold Medal for Architecture for his design of the Burrell museum.
Admission to The Burrell Collection will be free, despite its enormous cost to build and the estimated £2.8m a year it will cost to run. Strathclyde Regional Council has agreed to contribute 17½% of the annual running costs but this still leaves Glasgow with a great deal of money to find.
The city's Labour administration has rejected a proposal to charge admission to the collection. They take the view that The Burrell Collection is already costing the people of Glasgow enough without charge them money to see it.
Many men played important roles in the story of The Burrell Collection over the decades. Dr Tom Honeyman, director of Glasgow's museums from 1939 to 1952, claimed that a phone call to his home in Glasgow from Sir William Burrell in December 1943 started the negotiations which brought the collection to the city.,
Stuart Henderson, director of the museums from 1953 until 1972, during whose term of office it was finally decided that a Burrell gallery would be built, and Trevor Walden, who came to Glasgow in 1972 from Leicester confident that he would go down in the appropriate history books as the director who reigned during the building and opening of The Burrell Collection, but who died suddenly in 1979
Then there were the keepers of the collection whose major task was to ensure that the priceless paintings and other manifestations of man's creative genius were adequately safeguarded in their various hiding places and restored as far as possible to their original artistic glory. Andrew Hannah, who carried out this important task from 1944 to 1956; William Wells 1956 to 1978, and Richard Marks, who supervised the building of the Burrell gallery and saw it opened.(end Italics)
The no-charge policy still applies to the collection although a charge was made at the end of 1993 for an exhibition of Degas bronzes which was said to be necessary because of the high cost of transporting and insuring the exhibits. "
Barry Gasson's whereabout are now unknown. Perhaps if he reads this he will let us know where he is. Glasgow runs 12 museums and galleries, more than any other city in in Britain, which are acknowledged to be among the best in the UK for the quality, variety and value of their treasures.
These include the Museum of Religion, the only one of its kind in Britain, and the Gallery of Modern Art "an exciting and challenging experience," which opened in March 1996 to the accompanyment of considerable controvery. The National Gallery of Scottish Art and Design, which will occupy the former Post Office building in George Square will be run by the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh.