There are some places that draw me back again and again whether I intend to go or not. The Burrell Collection seems to be one. I visited for the first time during my first week living in Glasgow, then returned with friends for a tour of the embroidery collection, then once again a few days later, when I hopped on a bus intending to go north, and ending up going south instead. I realised in a panic, leapt off (kicking myself) then, seeing the leafy entrance to Pollok Park, consoled myself with a wander around the collection and a Tunnock’s teacake.
But then, there’s certainly the quantity and variety of artefacts to warrant more than one visit. When Sir William Burrell bequethed his huge collection of Chinese ceramics, ancient Egyptian art, Medieval embroideries and Rodin sculptures (amongst other things), he stipulated it should be housed in a building 16 miles from the city of Glasgow. He worried that city pollution would damage the objects, particularly the tapestries, so wanted them to be housed in a clean rural setting – showing great foresight in terms of conservation. Although not as far from the city as he wished, Pollok park provides ample green space for the collection building as well as Pollok House (now a National Trust property), herds of Highland cattle, dense woodland and blackberrying opportunities. Yum.
Unfortunately, nature is also creeping into the building in the form of clothes moths and rain water, so some furnishings have been taken off display for deep freezing to eliminate any unwanted hosts, and in a couple of rooms furniture is swathed in plastic whilst stray buckets collect drips.
However, there are still some fantastic objects on display. One of my favourites was this fifteenth century tapestry, which very beautifully illustrates the task of hunting rabbits. The tapestry designers and weavers succeeding in expressing both the cuteness of the little bunnies and the precise method used to catch them, as described in the 14th century by Gaston Phoebus, a French nobleman: ‘Fine nets are put over the rabbit holes and a ferret is sent down the only one left free; he wears a muzzle so that he can’t kill the rabbits, eat them and appear days later after sleeping it off. Disturbed by the smell of the ferret, the rabbits soon rush up into the nets where slaughter and a place in the stew awaits them”.
On the right-hand side you can even spot an opportunistic bear lurking in the bushes.
There’s also a room full of very impressive seventeenth and eighteenth-century embroidery in the form of formidable samplers, ornate caps and fancy cushion covers, some featuring a menagerie of familiar, exotic and mythical creatures. I was particularly taken with the grasshoppers and twisting, multi-fruited plants on the cover below.
The Burrell Collection is free and open daily.
Pollok Country Park, 2060 Pollokshaws Road, Glasgow G43 1AT