New display highlights Northumberland's very own Burrell collection

Berwickshire shipping magnate who bought his first work of art with money given to him for a cricket bat donated hundreds of items

Left: Ciaro bazaar, from the Berwick Burrell collection; Right: Dancers by Degas, from the Berwick Burrell collection
Left: Ciaro bazaar, from the Berwick Burrell collection; Right: Dancers by Degas, from the Berwick Burrell collection

While treasures from the Burrell collection are on their way to Tyneside, a display has been launched to show that Northumberland already has its own array of items donated by the shipping magnate.

The Journal reported last week how Bede’s World in Jarrow will be able to select Burrell items from the collection while its Glasgow building is closed for a four-year revamp

But Berwick Visual Arts and Berwick Museum and Art Gallery have opened an exhibition to highlight that Northumberland already has a considerable Burrell offering of its own.

The display at the Granary Gallery in Dewars Lane in Berwick, which runs until May 4, also shows how the county has strong links with Sir William Burrell, who amassed one of the biggest arts and antiquities collections in the world.

Those links saw Sir William donate many items to Berwick, while living at Hutton Castle just north of the town.

The exhibition aims to increase the profile of the collection which is of international importance, but is one of the least known in public ownership in Northumberland and the wider North East.

Sir William donated around 50 paintings and 400 other items, from ceramics to antiquities, to Berwick.

Anne Moore, who is based at Berwick Museum and Art Gallery as museums officer north for the Woodhorn Trust, said: “When the Burrell collection is mentioned, people think of Glasgow but Northumberland has its own Burrell.”

Left: One of the items from the Berwick Burrell collection;Right: A vase from the Berwick Burrell collection
Left: One of the items from the Berwick Burrell collection;Right: A vase from the Berwick Burrell collection

With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, a six month local community project has taken place in advance of the exhibition.

Volunteers working with Berwick Record Office have researched the life of Sir William, his time living at Hutton Castle and the collection he gave to Berwick.

An oral history project has also recorded people with memories of Burrell and Berwick Museum and Art Gallery when it was on the town’s High Street.

Teachers from five schools have worked with the project’s learning team to develop a digital learning resource available free to all schools to download.

It contains a range of activities based on 18 works from the collection

Support from the HLF has paid for specialist conservation of the collection, allowing works that have not been on display before to be seen by the public.

Sir William was born in Glasgow in 1861, though his family had originated in Northumberland.

He entered the family shipbuilding firm at the age of 14 and took over joint management of the business with his brother George in 1885.

17th Century lady with coral bracelet, from the Berwick Burrell collection
17th Century lady with coral bracelet, from the Berwick Burrell collection

He had bought his first painting by the age of 18 with money his father had given him to buy a cricket bat.

Sir William travelled to Europe several times a year to indulge his love of art and antiques.

Burrell was able to retire in 1917 and ultimately concentrate on building his art collection.

He loaned over 200 paintings to the Glasgow International Exhibition and in 1927 he was knighted for his services to art in Scotland and was a trustee of the National Galleries of both England and Scotland.

In 1944, Sir William was granted the Freedom of Glasgow and then presented his home city with the bulk of his collection, together with enough money to build a gallery to display it in.

Sir William searched for a castle, partly to house his extensive collection of medieval art.

He bought Hutton Castle from Lord Tweedmouth in 1916.

The castle is a late 15th Century fortress overlooking the River Whiteadder, a few miles north of Berwick.

Sir William and Lady Constance and daughter Marion were able to take up residence in 1927, with renovation of the castle complete by 1932.

Burrell became a leisured country gentleman but avoided unnecessary expense in running the building, placing a master-switch for the electricity supply throughout the building in his bedroom.

This would be turned off at 10pm when he retired for the night, regardless of other residents.

Sir William became involved in the artistic life of Berwick and gave his initial consignment of objects to the town in 1940

He was elected to the presidency of the Berwick & District Arts Society and was then asked to sit on Berwick Town Council’s museum and library subcommittee, together with local artist Frank Wood.

In 1946 he gifted paintings to the museum in the “hope that they may be the nucleus of a small picture gallery to be housed in the Museum”.

Sir William Burrell at Hutton Castle Berwickshire awarded the St Mungo prize standing in front of fireplace
Sir William Burrell at Hutton Castle Berwickshire awarded the St Mungo prize standing in front of fireplace

Research in the Berwick Archives has revealed that during this time, Sir William frequently liaised with officials at Berwick Town Council, regarding his continuing gifts and his desire for the formation of a small art gallery, which he hoped “would give the people an interest in art”.

By 1947 he was overseeing the formation of the new gallery.

Sir William l died at Hutton Castle in 1958, in his 97th year.

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