The northern English town of Berwick upon Tweed is showing off treasures from a collection of artefacts, porcelain and pictures bequeathed to it by the late Sir William Burrell who, of course, endowed the much larger collection owned by the City of Glasgow. Berwick’s collection includes Chinese porcelain and decorative objects, some of which are currently on display in three glass cases.
Two cases of Oriental pieces from Berwick’s Burrell collection Photo Paul Harris
Some of the pieces are not without interest although we found the captioning accompanying them to be a bit hit and miss. Whoever did the captioning seemed to be unaware of the difference between certain Chinese mythical animals and has confused kylin with lion dog. Also there is some ambiguity present with Chinese blue and white apparently confused with Delft ware. Needless to say, we have apprised the organisers of these small infelicities!
The Burrell connection with Berwick upon Tweed derives from his purchase of nearby Hutton Castle as his country residence for when he tired of ‘big business’ as a shipping magnate based in Glasgow. His shipping concern brought him into close contact with countries like China and Japan and he obtained some outstanding pieces from both countries.
Despite his fabulous wealth which funded a vast art collection, Burrell was an extraordinarily mean man. A friend of ours, who we used to work with, London publisher Mr Charles Skilton in 1955 produced a lavish coffee table book on the Scottish artist Joseph Crawhall. It was produced on handmade paper with colour collotype tipped in plates printed in East Germany. The price was 5 guineas then (it sells for around £100 secondhand these days) but Charles thought it worth his while to show the book to Burrell, who was the artist’s greatest patron. Indeed, the book contained many plates illustrating Burrell’s purchases.
Burrell leafed idly through the book, gave it back to Charles with the observation ‘very nice’. He forbore to purchase a single copy of the limited edition. After a simple dinner Charles went off to bed early as every body in the house seemed to have disappeared. At 9pm precisely, all the lights went out. Burrell had the master switch installed above his own bed and the last thing he did before going to sleep at an early hour was to turn off the electricity throughout the castle!
The quality of the Chinese pieces is not on quite the same level as his European art purchases. Within the exhibition are some outstanding oils and watercolours by artists like Degas, Boudin, Maris, Crawhall and (Arthur) Melville.
The exhibits have not been widely seen before now and The Granary Gallery in Berwick, which is hosting the show, is well worth a visit. Guided tours, talks and a schools programme are accompanying the exhibition and you can learn more at www.berwickvisualarts.co.uk/get-involved.
Kangxi blue and white vase from Berwick’s Burrell collection Photo Paul Harris
Berwick’s Burrell Collection is on show at The Granary Gallery, Dewar’s Lane, Berwick upon Tweed until May 4 2015