Sir William Burrell was born in Glasgow in July 1861, the third of nine children. After his father died, Burrell and his brothers ran the family shipping business. They were able to become very wealthy from their business practices, allowing Burrell time to begin piecing togther what would become his vast collection. His first acquisition was an 18th century British portrait.
Burrel was knighted in 1927 for his services to art and in recognition of his public work. He donated his collection to the city of Glasgow in 1944 along with a large sum of money to be used to house it. However, there were several conditions that Burrell detailed for the displaying of his collection: the most problematic of these was that Burrell wished the collection to be housed in a building well outside the city to avoid damage from pollution.
Burrell died at Hutton Castle in the Scottish Borders in March 1958. Both he and his wife, Constance, are buried in Largs, where the family maintained a holiday home.
In 1967 when the Pollock Estate was given to the city, and Burrell’s trustees agreed to have the conditions of Burrell’s gift waived. The purpose-built museum, the Burrell Collection, was finally opened in 1983. However, the extent of Burrell’s collection meant that only a fraction could ever be on display at one time. Other museums around the city display parts of the collection: The Provand’s Lordship houses Burrell’s collection of 17th century Scottish furniture.
The Collection, in its entirety, is an astonishing achievement: that one man could gather together items of medieval art, oak furniture, medieval weapons and armour, Islamic art, artefacts from ancient Egypt and China, Impressionist works by Degas and Cézanne, modern sculpture and other artefacts is incredible.