Inside Clarendon Fine Art: CEO Helen Swaby’s story

With the launch of the E2E Female 100 list for 2024, we spoke to Helen Swaby, CEO and founder of Clarendon Fine Art, the world’s leading gallery group specialising in international, contemporary and modern masters; featuring in a strong position on the list, we learnt more about her story and experiences

Wednesday 24 April 2024 15:12 BST

Can you tell us your story, why you founded the business and what led you to set up Clarendon Fine Art?

Clarendon Fine Art’s journey started from my own personal experience of the art world. I always had a deep appreciation for the way that art can make you feel, the way it can transform a home or connect with your emotions. As a first-time buyer, I was stunned by the realisation that the industry at that time felt exclusive, intimidating, and elitist. I was determined to tackle this, opening the doors to the art world by educating, inspiring and making art accessible to all.

How did you go about setting up the brand?

Originally, we started as a connection between the artist and the gallery. I’d work with emerging artist talents, travelling the UK, selling at art fairs and directly to independent galleries. After solidifying our name as a voice of recognised talent, my vision to demystify the elitism around the art industry led me to opening our first boutique gallery, allowing us to create an environment like no other; a welcoming look and feel, with warmth and understanding of the power of connecting people to art. We opened Whitewall Galleries (now known as Clarendon Fine Art) in Notting Hill. We had a fresh and innovative perspective on the industry which every art enthusiast welcomed.

Fast forward to 2024 and our mission remains the same. We have over 500 employees and 90 stunning boutique galleries placed across the UK, Cunard, and P&O cruise liners and Westport, USA. We have a unique portfolio of artists ranging from top international names, award winners and the most exceptional new emerging talents. As well as living contemporary artists we have an extensive Modern Masters collection including Lowry, Dali, Hockney, Warhol, Hirst etc. We offer an amazing spectrum of art for all tastes and price points catering for both newcomers to the market and established collectors.

Whilst the brand continues to grow, our purpose and values are to ‘Ignite the Passion every day’.

What involvement do you have with the business now?

I’m involved in the business today, but it’s down to the collective strengths and trust across our expert teams and remarkable partners that facilitates Clarendon to flourish. I’m a believer in presence. The open-door approach doesn’t stop at our galleries, it’s important that our teams across the business know that they can pick up the phone to me, our leadership team, or other experts across the business. Whether it’s mentorship or curating a beautiful space, it’s very much a unified effort and we work together as one.

What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs starting out?

Don’t be afraid to be disruptive! Embrace innovation, establish your brand voice, and remain true to it. Being an entrepreneur is hard work, it’s a passion, and we are forever adapting to the needs of our clients and market. Always remind yourself of the spark that drove your initiative. Behind every great and successful concept there’s always a story and our clients love the narrative behind a piece of art. It’s important to reflect on what you, your extraordinary teams and your business have achieved. Use this as your ammunition to keep forging forward.

What are you most proud of professionally? What makes Clarendon Fine Art different?

I’m most proud of our remarkable teams and the phenomenal artist talent we get to work with and showcase every single day. Last month we opened the doors to our 90th boutique gallery, a momentous moment for us all! Every time I step into one of our galleries, I feel a prodigious sense of community, I’m constantly mesmerised by the beauty and quality of the art that surrounds us. We’re authentic, transformative, fast movers and fiercely loyal – that’s what differentiates and makes us the world’s leading art gallery group.

What are some milestones and achievements you’ve experienced?

Over the past 3 years we have experienced substantial growth. At the beginning of 2023 we opened our flagship gallery in Westport Connecticut spanning 3,000 sq. ft along with additional boutique galleries throughout the UK whilst enhancing our online presence and digital capabilities to adapt to evolving consumer preferences. We believe in the transformative power of art. As we look forward to the next milestone, our concept revolves around curating exceptional pieces that inspire and enrich the lives of our clients.

What does it mean to you to be included in the Female 100?

It’s a huge honour to feel what we collectively at Clarendon Fine Art have achieved. I would like to express my extreme gratitude to our clients, partners, and dedicated teams for their unwavering support in our journey so far. Together, we remain committed to shaping the future of art and enhancing lives through creativity, passion, and enjoyment.

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