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Talking to Jenna Burlingham, Gallery Owner

Founder of Jenna Burlingham fine art

A Life Well Lived

As part of our journey to Re-Define Wealth we are exploring what “A Life Well Lived” means: interviewing artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and change-makers as they share some of their stories and ask “what is my life well lived?”.

"One of the things I did to test the idea was a weekend pop-up in my house and that really gave me the confidence to open the gallery."

Cutting her teeth in the auction rooms at Philips and later at the renowned contemporary gallery Offer Waterman & Co, Jenna Burlingham opened her own Fine Art Gallery nine years ago to much acclaim. Having forged an incredibly successful career for herself in a fiercely competitive and male dominated industry, we wanted to speak to her about her journey, running her own gallery and what living well means to her.

On Work

“Everything up until I opened the gallery had been a natural progression through various careers and different areas within the Art business, but running my own Gallery was never really something I thought I wanted to do. I always had the idea in the back of my mind that when I was ‘grown-up’ it might be something I could do, but my age caught up with me and I suddenly realised that the time was now.”

"I always had the idea in the back of my mind that when I was ‘grown-up’ it might be something I could do, but my age caught up with me and I suddenly realised that the time was now.”

“It had a lot to do with family and the point of my life I was at. I was juggling kids, a commute, a Directorship in London [at Offer Waterman & Co] and it just wasn’t manageable. I knew I wanted to do something for myself so it was a combination of all those things coming together.”

“One of the things I did to test the idea was a weekend pop-up in my house and that really gave me the confidence to open the gallery. At the time I had just started to work with the children of a big printmaker called André Bicat, who very sweetly trusted me with the entire body of work from his estate. I put it all around my house, invited all of my friends and various people I knew from the industry and it did really well instantly. After that I thought you know what, I can do this.”

“Living in North Hampshire I needed to find a way of working that meant I didn’t need to be in London the entire time. I knew it was going to have to be a destination gallery and that I also needed somewhere I could run my website from; I basically needed a base.”

“This beautiful building came up in Kingsclere – an old book store. We did it up, exposed the beams, sorted out the flooring and just made it look lovely, which was the easy part. I then needed to set the business up, find pictures and things to sell. Bringing the stock together is the most crucial part which I did over the course of about a year. I wanted to focus on things that were accessible because you really don’t need to spend a fortune to find something really lovely.”

On Hindsight

“I really didn’t anticipate where the business would go. I knew that I could do it and do it properly, but I didn’t know it would get the kind of response that it has. So I think I would give myself a bit more confidence, because that sense of self-belief has really grown.”

“I love the freedom that running my own business gives me and I love the fact that it is endlessly different"

“Before setting up my own, I think the concept I had was that running a business was for other people, but when you actually take the leap and set up a business, you realise that it’s really quite straightforward. I have found that I’ve got a kind of acumen for these things that I never would have thought I had.”

“I love the freedom that running my own business gives me and I love the fact that it is endlessly different. I can do what I want basically. I like being able to choose day-by-day or week-by-week how we do it, and I love the variety that it gives me. It doesn’t really feel like work; it just feels like it’s what I do.”

On Success

“I’m probably still striving for it in lots of ways, but for me, success is inevitably trying to achieve a good, healthy, work life balance. I’ve got two young teenage children and a husband who works really hard as well – so it’s important for us to try and come together as much as possible. That side of things is really crucial for me, but as for work; making sure I always really love it and that I don’t get frustrated or jaded would feel like success.”

On Living Well

“Well, it’s a given that I couldn’t live without my family; my two children and my lovely husband. I also live very near to my extended family; my mother lives next door, my aunt is in the village and my extended family regularly visit which is a really important part of my life. But in terms of things I couldn’t live without, I’m somebody who works with stuff, lovely things, all of the time. People always ask how I can bear to sell everything, but I know there are so many gorgeous things out there that it’s easy. And I know that there are always going to be other lovely things out there.”

“When I really truly think about it, I need to do a little bit more of the ‘good life’ part, but I think a good life is having a nice work life balance and having more time to do more good, and that’s something I haven’t had any time to do recently. My friends are very important to me and so having more time for people; my friends, family, extended family would be good.

I lead a very privileged life in a very privileged world and I think over time I need to work out what it is I can do that’s a little more altruistic.”

On Fulfilment

“Setting up the gallery has been really fulfilling; it’s been fantastic. I find great satisfaction just before an exhibition opens, or when I’ve set up a lovely show such as the one I have now [November], or even an Art Fair when I’ve created a great stand.”

“I gather a lot of things together here in my countryside gallery space, unbeknownst to other people, and then I go to a big fair in London and I reveal it. Setting the stand up and revealing it is nerve-wracking but also really exciting, because I tend to know when I’ve done it well.”

On Home

“I’m biased because I think that homes come together when it’s full of pictures, preferably from different stages of your life. In my own house for example, I’ve got pictures from when I was 18-19 all the way through to more recent years. I like pictures that have a story or act as a kind of memory bank. To me that brings everything together. And never be afraid to be eclectic as well, I don’t like anything too contrived.”

We’d look at pictures together and buy the odd one, but never anything over £800, that was our rule.”

“I’ve got one painting that I’m very sentimental about. It’s by an artist called Mary Adshead and I bought that painting, around 18 years ago with my lovely Dad. When I was in the auction world, he would buy the odd picture on my advice – he was a solicitor but he loved the art world because it was completely alien to him. We’d look at pictures together and buy the odd one, but never anything over £800, that was our rule.”

“One of the pictures we bought was this Mary Adshead which is of Hyde Park Corner. It’s got these lovely period cars and a painted frame and it’s the most lovely, naïve, informal painting – we bought it in half shares for £250 each, £500 total. He had it first and then when he died 4 years ago it was the first painting I was like this is mine, I’m having it back. I have it now in our sitting room where we hang out and it’s like ‘that’s my Dads, that’s ours’, so it’s really sentimental”

On Wealth

“I’ve seen wealth in lots of different forms because I meet an awful lot of people and deal with so many at all the different levels, but I think real wealth is  the people who can actually enjoy it, who allow others to benefit from it. There are so many different variations that I think what people should strive for is just that sense of happiness and a sense of wellbeing.”

On Retirement

“I absolutely do not picture retirement. I would never be someone that would say ‘come a certain age that’s it’. Especially when I’ve seen a lot of other people in the gallery business just keep on going. I’m lucky that my role can quieten down, can be reduced to just a few people or even just specific artists, but I certainly don’t picture retirement.

I picture giving myself more time, and hopefully my role will allow more and more of that as things move on.”