Archive Dive: Violette de Mazia

Archive Dive: Violette de Mazia


In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re looking at some notable women who have been involved with the Barnes Foundation.

Violette de Mazia (1899–1988)

Educator, author and artist

Born in Paris, accounts of de Mazia’s early education and arrival in the United States vary, but most agree that she attended school in Brussels and London, and also taught French in London, before coming to Philadelphia in 1924. She came to visit a cousin, and as some recently discovered correspondence in the archives of the Violette de Mazia Foundation reveals, perhaps to mend a broken heart.

De Mazia taught French at Miss Sayward's School in Philadelphia, and in September of 1925, Dr. Barnes hired her to teach French at the A.C. Barnes Company. At the same time, she enrolled in the Barnes Foundation's course in art appreciation and philosophy, then taught by Thomas Munro.

She must have been a quick study; on October 1, 1926, Dr. Barnes offered de Mazia a position co-teaching the first-year art and aesthetics class with Jeannette Portenar, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Portenar taught philosophy in the morning and de Mazia “spoke in front of the paintings” in the afternoon. Their class replaced that of their teacher, Thomas Munro.

With an article published in Les Arts à Paris describing the art education program at the Foundation, de Mazia began a long and prolific writing career, co-authoring several books with Dr. Barnes.

In 1950, de Mazia became the Director of Education of the Art Department. With Dr. Barnes's philosophy of education as a basis, Violette de Mazia created her own approach to teaching art appreciation.

She served as a trustee from 1935 to 1966, when, after Mrs. Barnes’s death, she became the vice president of the Board of Trustees. She taught the first-year courses and graduate seminars for sixty years, until her retirement from teaching in May 1987.

Dr. Barnes bought and included two of de Mazia’s pieces in his collection: a painting entitled A Necklace of Boats on the north wall of room 11, and a drawing entitled Head on the north wall of room 17.


After she died in 1988, the proceeds from her estate funded the creation of an educational institution which would become the Violette de Mazia Foundation.


Images: Violette de Mazia. A Necklace of Boats, 1949. BF1195. Violette de Mazia. Head, not dated. BF768

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