We came across the concept of a Vernissage when we were invited to exhibit at an art gallery in Sweden. Vernissage is French and means ‘varnishing’. The original term comes from the day before an exhibition opens when the paintings would get a final coat of varnish. In Sweden it is rather similar to what we know as a ‘exhibition private view’. So basically vernissage is an exhibition preview event. After we had been to Sweden, and were back in the UK, we used the term ‘vernissage’ to cover the invitation-only private-views that we regularly held in our own front room at home.

For several years, back in the 1980’s, usually over a weekend just before Christmas, we invited collectors of our artwork to come to our house where we had set up a private exhibition. We even invested in free wine and cheese. We had found that it was an effective and inexpensive way to end the year on a selling spree. We hoped to cover the really bad-income, cold and gloomy, month of January that was bound to follow.

One year an extra, uninvited, visitor came along just by chance. He was Gavin Henderson the director of the Brighton Arts Festival. Gavin had been dropping of one of his kids to the music teacher who lived opposite. That is how he heard about us, and so he popped in. He suggested that we should get together with a group of six other artists who opened their houses to show art during the annual Brighton Arts Festival every May. So we did a year later.

FiveWays Artists Group 1991

FiveWays Artists Group 1991

We were actually the seventh artist’s open house in the group. Number 1 on the map. We think this was the first such ‘artists open house’ venture in the UK. That was in 1991. And like Topsy ‘it just grew’.

In the years since the Open House concept has taken off in a big way. Nowadays there are artist’s open house exhibitions all over the country. Here in Brighton there are regularly over 200 open houses every May during the annual Arts Festival. About 1000 artists exhibit and over 100,000 people visit every year.


But there is a big difference between opening up your home to invited known guests, and opening your home to anybody and everybody who hears about it.

One of the first questions that a prospective artist who is thinking of opening their home to unknown thousands asks is; “Can we really trust the general public?”

This is very understandable because the artist is allowing complete strangers into their private space. It can be a bit worrying. Would you do that?

Well we did. It worked very well. I learned that people are lovely. Especially art lovers. So we opened our home to thousands of complete strangers for 10 – 14 days every year for the next 22 years. Then we retired the house. But not us!

Artists Open House flag

Artists Open House



The next Brighton Arts Festival will include hundreds of artist’s open houses as usual.

We are still very involved.

Nowadays our daughter, the artist Shyama Ruffell, opens her house and we are guest exhibitors on her walls.

We will post a new blog on this later.