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The Man Who Collected the World: William Burrell

Wed Aug 21, 9-10pm, BBC4

What drives a person to collect 9,000 examples of arts and crafts representing 4,000 years of creative history? That’s what Kirsty Wark sets out to discover in this film about Glasgow shipping magnate William Burrell, who began collecting at the age of 14 with a small painting he bought at auction in the city.

He promptly had to resell it at a loss when he realised it came without a frame, which he couldn’t afford. But over the course of the next 80 years he would bring a much cannier approach to the acquisition of extraordinary paintings and drawings from near and far, medieval glass, ceramics from China and textiles from Persia… He left the collection to his home city and Glasgow’s Burrell Museum celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of its public opening this year.

Kirsty never satisfactorily answers the question she poses at the outset, but instead offers a wander through standout pieces that represent certain eras, events or shifts in Burrell’s life and work. It’s wonderfully absorbing if you’re at all interested in art and art history, but the clearly loving depth of detail means it moves along a tad too slowly if you’re not. Get through it, though, and you’ll almost certainly be drawn to Glasgow and the real thing; so you’ve been warned.