HE made his fortune in shipping and amassed an impressive private art collection later bequeathed to the City of Glasgow, yet little is known of Sir William Burrell's life away from that public persona.

But now a BBC Scotland documentary will attempt to shed new light on one of the nation's most prolific philanthropists.

The Man Who Collected the World: William Burrell charts the story of the Glasgow-born shipping magnate who, having assembled a remarkable 9000-strong collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, ceramics and stained glass, donated it to his home city in 1944.

Narrated by Kirsty Wark, it endeavours to dig beneath the surface of a man so self-effacing that, despite buying from many leading artists of his time, he never commissioned a portrait of himself.

Ms Wark said: "The story of William Burrell is also the story of Glasgow, the second city of empire, at its peak. It's the story of a man who made a fortune out of shipping and spent it on art.

"Burrell made a huge impact on the city of Glasgow, yet we know almost nothing about him and I've always wondered what drove him to make his fortune and spend a lifetime amassing this unique collection."

Among those to provide fresh insight is Sue Stephen, the god-daughter of Burrell's only child Marion. Her family's close friendship with the Burrells, spanning four generations, has meant she has access to information known by only a scarce few, not least of Burrell's troubled relationship with Marion and the health issues of his wife Constance.

"One of the reasons he was so private was because of his wife," she said. "Constance suffered from ill health and became mentally ill, something that has not been generally known.

"The Burrells led a more and more secluded life, partly because of this. Her husband cared for her lovingly right through her life and protected her problems from public exposure. He was always saying: 'I'm so sorry, my wife is unwell.'"

Burrell had high expectations for Marion, and had her schooled by French governesses. "When she was young he saw her potential and decided he would mould her in his own way," said Mrs Stephen.

It was his desire that she marry into the aristocracy, but Burrell never deemed any suitors good enough. Marion only learned that her father had called off her engagement to one young man when she read a notice in the newspaper. Furious, she vowed never to marry.

Constance, meanwhile, seemed to never quite forgive her daughter for a traumatic labour and their relationship was strained.

As the programme reveals, Marion once confided to John Pringle, the family's former gardener, that "mum has never loved me".

It is a scenario confirmed by Mrs Stephen. "Constance became insanely jealous of Marion and she used her husband to hurt their daughter," she said. "Marion was made to suffer."

But Mrs Stephen, who is writing a biography of Marion's life titled Collector's Daughter: The Untold Burrell Story, said she had come to "grow fond of the brilliant and extraordinary William Burrell".

"Everyone knows Burrell was difficult," she said. "But it's a little bit unfair when you think that he lived to the ripe old age of 96 and practically all of the first-hand memories of him were in his old age.

"He was a withdrawn person and didn't want to be in the public eye – he wanted the collection to be admired, but he didn't really want to be admired himself.

"Burrell was very unpretentious. He never tried to be anything other than an ordinary Glasgow businessman, albeit an unusually successful one."

The Man Who Collected the World: William Burrell is on BBC2 Scotland, Wednesday May 29, 9pm

l Born in Glasgow in 1861, Sir William Burrell was the third of nine children. His family ran a shipping business, the industry in which he later made his fortune.

l He bought his first painting for a few shillings in an auction as a 14-year-old, his father saying the money would have been better spent on a cricket bat.

l Burrell had a canny knack for buying work early on before prices became too prohibitive, not least oil paintings by American artist James McNeill Whistler.

l Over the years his collection grew to include rare and precious objects, including the matrimonial bed-head of King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.

l He married Constance Mitchell, the daughter of another ship owner, in 1902. They had only one child, Marion.

l In 1944, he donated his entire 9000-strong collection to the City of Glasgow with £250,000 to house it. The conditions included a request that it be displayed in a rural setting. A custom-build museum, the Burrell Collection, was finally opened in Pollok Country Park in 1983.

l Burrell died at Hutton Castle in the Scottish Borders in 1958, aged 96.