The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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William Burrell, 1861-1958

Nationality: Scottish
Date of Birth: 1861.07.09
Place of Birth: Glasgow
Date of Death: 1958.03.29
Place of Death:


Sir William Burrell was a Glasgow shipowner, collector and philanthropist. His family were originally from Northumbria.


Burrell was an important collector, purchasing works by Géricault, Delacroix, Courbet, Courbet, Millet, Boudin, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Cézanne and JW. He relied on a couple of notable dealers including Daniel Cottier and Alexander Reid. In 1901 Burrell loaned more than 200 objects from his collection to the International Exhibition at Kelvingrove. From 1911 to 1957 he carefully documented all his purchases, noting prices, dates and provenance.

Burrell bought JW's La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (YMSM 50), which was sold to him by Reid around 1894/5, and which he passed on to C. L. Freer in August 1903 for £3,750; Study for the Head of Miss Cicely H. Alexander (YMSM 128), which was sold by Burrell at auction on 16 May 1902; Nocturne: Grey and Gold - Westminster Bridge (YMSM 145), presented to the City of Glasgow in 1945 and Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket (YMSM 181), bought by the New York dealer Smythe from Burrell for £10,000 at some point after 1905.

Amongst the works in pencil, watercolour and pastel by JW that Burrell purchased were The Purple Iris (M.397), bought by Freer on 7 June 1904 for £160; r.: Morning Glories; v.: Nude study (M.410), bought by Freer in November 1903 for £150; San Giovanni Apostolo et Evangelistae (M.783), also bought by Freer in August 1902 for £75; Amsterdam in Winter (M.877); and Mother and child (M.1288), one of the works JW signed for Burrell at the request of the Fine Art Society in 1895. Burrell also bought The Bridge; flesh colour and brown (M.759) from the London dealer D. C. Thomson for 580 guineas on 28 May 1925 and Modèle drapé (M.1071) on 28 May 1937.

Burrell became a city councillor in Glasgow, a trustee of the National Gallery of Scotland and a trustee of the Tate Gallery in London. He was knighted in 1927. In 1944 he donated around 6000 items of his collection to the City of Glasgow. This increased by a further 2000 objects before his death.


Wells, W., 'Sir William Burrell and his Collection', Museum Journal, vol. 72, 1972, pp. 101-3; Clark, K., 'Sir William Burrell: A Personal Reminiscence', Scottish Review, vol. 2, 1977, no. 6, pp. 15-16; Savage, P., 'Through the Eyes of a Friend: William Burrell, Collector (1861-1958)', Country Life, vol. 161, 27 January 1977, pp. 15-16; Marks, R., Burrell: A Portrait of a Collector, Glasgow, 1983; Nicholas Pearce, 'Sir William Burrell', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 12 April 2002).