Thomas Woodham-Smith Explains the Inspiration Behind the Open Art Fair 2020

The Open Art Fair 2020 York Square London

The Open Art Fair 2020 is coming to London’s Duke of York Square in March and is open to everyone. The event promises to be a fun and exciting celebration of art and antiques, coupled with more than a sprinkling of fun.

The Open Art Fair 2020 is a refreshing new concept, an eclectic multi-disciplinary event, informal with a light-hearted atmosphere. A sense of fun is one of the core aspects of the fair, and this is reinforced with an actual treasure hunt.

The event seeks to take away much of the stuffiness associated with traditional fairs and will be both informative and enjoyable for all. At the fair is an elegant all-day cafe serving a variety of up-to-the-minute dishes and a Gimlet bar serving refreshing cocktails and cordials.

Thomas Woodham-Smith is the creator of the Open Art Fair, and he describes how the idea evolved and the inspiration he took from his life as an antique dealer.

The adventure, in his own words: At university, I had toyed with the idea of going into the wine trade. However, immediately after my finals, I was lucky enough to be offered a temporary job driving the van at Mallett, one of the most famous antique dealers in the world, for a few weeks.

Thomas Woodham-Smith, the Founder of The Open Art Fair
Thomas Woodham-Smith.

The highlight of their summer was the Grosvenor House Antique Fair in June, a fixture in the ballroom since 1934.

I was starstruck by the considerable effort everyone made to decorate their stands and by the exceptional quality of everything I saw around me. This was my antique dealing epiphany.

I started working at Mallett in the autumn, obliged to wear a suit but free to change the furniture around in the opulent, deep-carpeted galleries. In time, I progressed from the role of a junior salesman to the lofty heights of the managing director.

The inspiration for the Open Art Fair comes from being an antique dealer rather than a fair organiser. As I have exhibited at over a hundred fairs, I have accrued a vast body of experience standing around waiting for something to happen.

The new fair is geared toward creating an event both for the visitor and the exhibitor.

The first fair at ‘Gro Ho’ as we used to call it, descended into tedium, the gold had lost its glitter, became a grind and a burden. I had to break out of the hotel dungeon, and so did all the other exhibitors.

I came up with the idea of Masterpiece (the annual Fair at the Royal Hospital, catchphrase ‘best of the best’), and with a consortium, we made it happen. It was intended as an all-round experience, not just an accumulation of things to buy.

My new concept is different again, a more value-based direction. We want to give the visitor all the fun of the fair, but we are also interested in charm and decorative quality, as well as history.

The Open Art Fair is being held in the heart of Kings Road, therefore embedded in one of the most affluent residential neighbourhoods in London. The wonderfully eclectic shops along King’s Road perfectly echo the range of dealers that will exhibit at the fair.

FORREST & FRASER A William Pitts Epergne Candelabra
Forrest & Fraser – A William Pitts Epergne Candelabra.

We have everything from period London Underground maps to 19th-century Japanese bronzes with a multitude of stops on the way, including fine and frivolous furniture, exotic and traditional paintings, contemporary, edgy works by Banksy, Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, and most inspired 20th-century photography.

The Kaiser's Schooner Meteor IV Racing off Cowes by Renard
Haynes Fine Art – The Kaiser’s Schooner Meteor IV Racing off Cowes by Renard.

We have designed a light and airy fair, which will be intimate, with the dealers close together, creating a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. As an innovation, we encourage new dealers to be brave and join us as we have established a Pioneer section to offer the adventurous a cost-effective small space at the fair around the café.

These days, when antique dealers are leaving the High Street, unable to survive on the internet alone, it is crucial to have art fairs that are glamorous and appealing to all as well as affordable to exhibit and buy from.

Carla Kranendonk Yande 2019 mixed media on canvas
Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery – Carla Kranendonk Yande 2019 mixed media on canvas.

The Open Art Fair aims to provide a less stressful experience for the buyer to browse instead of entering an intimidating shop. It presents an opportunity to see an impressive and eclectic spectrum of art that would otherwise take months of travelling.

We are offering dealers a chance to connect with new people, as well as their familiar customers.

A Sultan Riding on an Elephant with a Mahout Early 19th century Meissen
Warner Antiques – A Sultan Riding on an Elephant with a Mahout Early 19th century Meissen.

Specialist collectors are few and far between; what most people seem to want is a spark of joy from an object rather than it fitting into a pre-established buying policy.

People seem to respond to an object regardless of its date. This means a productive challenge for dealers to justify a piece on its beauty and, charm, aesthetic appeal rather than a strict assessment of its age and the value of its material.

At the Open Art Fair, nothing is excluded; everything could turn up. So come along and find a treasure.

The Open Art Fair 2020 – Where and How?

The Open Art Fair starts on the 18th March and runs through to the 24th March. It will be located on Duke of York Square (SW3 4LY), just a few minutes walk from Sloane Square.

The nearest car park to The Open Art Fair 2020 is the Sloane Square car park located on Cheltenham Terrace SW3 4QX, just two minutes’ walk.

For more information, visit

Opening Times:

  • Wednesday 11.00 am – 8.00 pm
  • Thursday 11.00 am – 8.00 pm
  • Friday 11.00 am – 8.00 pm
  • Saturday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm
  • Sunday 11.00 am – 7.00 pm
  • Monday 11.00 am – 6.30 pm*
  • Tuesday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

*Charity evening for Ovarian Cancer Action

To read more articles on art and antiques, visit our dedicated section here.

Thomas Woodham-Smith Explains the Inspiration Behind the Open Art Fair 2020 2

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