Friday, August 3rd 2012
Today completes our first week in Glasgow, something that is hard to believe because I still feel as though I have only just arrived.
We are going out, as usual, and the weather is so-so: banks of clouds slide endlessly across the sky, alternating dull periods with sunny intervals. At least there is no sign of rain so far. We bought all-day bus tickets at £4.50 each and then boarded a number 57 for Shawlands, home of the Burrell Collection. We have been looking forward to visiting this famous exhibition.
The bus driver helpfully indicated the stop where we should disembark at the Pollok Estate. It is here that the Burrell Collection is housed. The estate is huge, and comprises a number of sites. If you are on foot as, we were, there is a lot of walking to do to reach the Collection, especially as the signage is not all that clear.
There were things to see and admire along the way, such as this gate and gatekeeper’s lodge with the date MDCCCXCI (1891) inscribed on the chimney.
We arrived at 9:45 and there was bad news: on Friday and Sunday, doors open at 11 am, not 10 am.
While waiting, we explored the area and found, among other things, an old lion-head drinking fountain, though I suspect it was erected more for its decorative qualities than for practical use.
There was a herd of highland cattle. These are attractive creatures which still retain a quality of wildness bout them.
Both bulls and cows have shaggy coats and long curved horns. One wonders how they can see with all the hair over their eyes.
Opening time arrives. By now a crowd has gathered and as the big wooden doors creak open, we all swarm in. Admission is free and photography is permitted.
The building that now houses the Collection (donated to Glasgow by William Burrell in 1944) was built in 1983 as an exhibition hall. It is light and airy and modern in style but incorporates some ancient features. By now we were wanting refreshments and our first port of call was the cafe.
The Burrell Collection contains a bewildering array of different types of objects, as befits the idiosyncratic collection of a man who buys what interests him. I can do no more than show a selection which will be partial and fall short of giving an impression of the whole. Above is one of several pieces of fine stained glass collected from churches.
There are complete room settings such as the above, simply labelled “16th and 17th century room”, with period furniture and portraits.
In contrast, there are small decorative items, like this painted earthenware pigeon from Syria, made sometime in the 13th or 14th centuries.
Then there are items of furniture, such as the above bedstead, made around 1620, and carved with decorative motifs and a coat of arms on the head board. It is not known known who the original owner was but the coat of arms suggests a connection with the royal court.
Who were the fortunate people who warmed themselves at this mid-16th-century fireplace that is thought to have come from the destroyed Tudor palace of Oatlands in Surrey? It is beautifully carved, a handsome piece of work.
One should not forget to look up, either, as here is a 15th-century ceiling. During the 19th century, this ceiling, really a section from a greater whole, was installed in a coffee shop in Bridgwater, Somerset, but it is thought that it would originally have belonged in a church.
In affluent homes, living rooms were decorated with fine wall hangings and this example, made in the late 17th or early 18th centuries in Beauvais (France), shows a seaport as backing for a design featuring trees, birds and shells. The whole is surrounded by a rich border. This would be one of a set produced in his Beauvais factory by Philippe Behagle.
Many of the exhibits take us beyond the domestic setting and the above is just one of a number of gateways and portals in the collection. The 12th-century example was originally part of the west façade of the church at Montron, near Château-Thierry in north-east France.
Every self-respecting collector must, of course, have items from the world’s first civilization, Ancient Egypt. The Burrell Collection includes several and this one is a head of the goddess Sekhmet from the temple of Mut at Karnak. It dates from the reign of the 18th-dynasty Pharaoh Amenophis III, 1404-1363 BC. I like the way the Egyptian artist has captured a lifelike impression of the animal despite casting it in the conventional form.
On this side, the garden, in the form of rough wooded ground, comes right to the big windows. When you suddenly catch sight of it, raising your eyes from the exhibits, the effect is dramatic or, at least, I found it so. It was as though the garden was part of the collection.
It is important, I think, to remember that the Burrell Collection is exactly that, a collection made by one man according to his personal interests, not a museum that tries to gather a representative selection to give a complete view of a subject, a place or an era. Moreover, the collection changed as Burrell bought new objects and sold old ones to pay for them. There is therefore a certain quirkiness to the ensemble which either intrigues or irritates.
I have to say that we felt a little disappointed by our visit. Perhaps the Collection’s reputation had raised our expectations too high. The arrangement of the exhibition also had a part to play in this. There are galleries here, there and everywhere but no obvious path through them. It’s easy to miss things or find yourself revisiting a gallery already seen.
We left the Burrell Collection around 1 pm and walked to the main road. Unfortunately, as we were taking the 800m walk, it began to rain heavily. We sheltered for a while under some trees but eventually reached the bus stop. I photographed this impressive building which turns out to be Pollokshaw Burgh Hall, built in the late 1880s on land donated by Sir John Maxwell in 1887. It was designed by Henry Edward Clifford in 17th century Scottish Renaissance style to serve as a resource for the community, a role it still plays.
We returned to Glasgow, to find that the rain seemed to have set in for the day. For a late lunch, we bought sandwiches and soup and took them back to our hotel room. Not wanting to waste the rest of the day, we went out once more, braving the wet conditions.
We found that the Duke of Wellington’s statue in front of GoMA was once more wearing a traffic cone on his head. (For comparison, see this previous photo taken on July 28th and the comments beneath it.) The “tradition” of placing a traffic cone on the Duke’s head has existed only from the 1980s but is now deeply ingrained, so that even though both the city council and the Strathclyde Police have warned against it (because of the danger of accident to people and of damage to the iconic sculpture) people continue to insist on doing it. It doesn’t help that businesses and travel guides exalt the practice for their own purposes.
We decided in view of the weather to go for a bus ride. Choosing more or less at random, we boarded a bus for Dumbarton but got out when we felt we had travelled far enough, and returned to Glasgow.
We did go for a little ramble around town but the best of the day was behind us and the weather not conducive. We spent some time looking for a place where we could have a consolatory supper. Eventually, we happened upon a venue with the promising name of Thali.
We discovered that this Indian restaurant was unusual in that it ran karaoke on certain evenings. Fortunately, we were able to order, eat, pay and escape before the singing began.
This restaurant offers you a “basic thali” (vegetarian or non-vegetarian), and you complete it by choosing up to four curry dishes, though they warn you, with disarming honesty, that two will probably be enough. It turned out that the advice was correct and we enjoyed a very good meal.