Violette de Mazia was born in Paris in 1899. Accounts of her early education and arrival in the United States vary, but most agree that she attended school in Brussels and London. She taught French in London before coming to Philadelphia in 1924, where she continued to teach French at Miss Sayward's School and, in 1925, to tutor Dr. Barnes and his staff at the AC Barnes Company. At the same time, she enrolled in the Barnes Foundation's course in art appreciation and philosophy.
In 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 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. 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. She died the following year.