A vernissage (from French, originally meaning “varnishing”) is a term used for a preview of an art exhibition, which may be private, before the formal opening. If the vernissage is not open to the public, but only for invited guests, it is often called a private view.
At official exhibitions in the nineteenth century, such as the Royal Academy summer exhibition, artists would give a finishing touch to their works by varnishing them. The custom of patrons and the élite of visiting the academies during the varnishing day prior to the formal opening of the exhibition gave rise to the tradition of celebrating the completion of an art work or a series of art works with friends and sponsors. In the twentieth century it became an opportunity to market the works on view to buyers and critics.
There is a comparable ceremonial ending of art exhibitions, called a finissage. Larger art exhibitions also may have an event at half time of the exhibition called a midissage. These latter terms are rare in English; they are more commonly used in German but not in French.