Sir William Burrell (1861-1958): the man and the collector

MacDonald, Isobel Caroline (2019) Sir William Burrell (1861-1958): the man and the collector. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis analyses the life and collecting career of the Glaswegian mercantile collector Sir William Burrell (1861-1958). It covers the period from 1882, his first recorded purchase, to 1983, the year that The Burrell Collection first opened in Pollok Country Park, Glasgow. This involves placing Burrell into the context of late nineteenth and early twentieth century middle-class collectors, who were distinct from their aristocratic predecessors through their support of modern and contemporary artists and art movements. Although Burrell’s collecting interests were catholic, ranging from medieval tapestries and stained glass, to Persian carpets, Chinese ceramics and bronzes, historical furniture, modern European painting and much more, this thesis illustrates his engagement with his contemporary artistic context. Throughout his collecting career Burrell loaned his objects to public exhibitions and institutions, highlighting his belief in the public’s access to art, something that ultimately led to his gift of the collection to Glasgow in 1944. Burrell’s collection comprises of over 8,000 objects. Rather than examine individual areas of the collection, this thesis considers it as an object itself, one that has had varying forms and values over time but was ultimately brought together through the act of the gift. In light of this, four main themes are examined: public mindedness, relationships, identity and legacy. Within these themes overarching research questions are posed: how did Burrell collect, what drove his acquisitions, and what were his intentions for his collection. Through the use of a broad range of archival material, this thesis builds up an image of Burrell the collector through the lens of his contemporaries. It is a biographical analysis of both man and collection, and seeks to understand the collector through the objects that he acquired. It ultimately reveals that what unites Burrell’s wide-ranging collection was his interest in artistry and craftsmanship, and his desire to learn through the objects that he collected. This not only affected what he bought but also who his closest associates were. This thesis reassesses Burrell, opening up new ways to consider him as a collector in the late nineteenth and twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Sir William Burrell, The Burrell Collection, Glasgow, history of collections, collecting, Glasgow museums, dealers, collector's interior.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
N Fine Arts > NK Decorative arts Applied arts Decoration and ornament
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts
Funder's Name: Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Supervisor's Name: Pearce, Professor Nick and Hancock, Ms Liz and Hamilton, Ms Vivien and Bellamy, Dr. Martin
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr Isobel Caroline MacDonald
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-72994
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 May 2019 15:26
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2023 10:46
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.72994

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