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Marzio, Peter Cort

    Full Name: Marzio, Peter Cort

    Other Names:

    • Peter Marzio

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 08 May 1943

    Date Died: 09 December 2010

    Place Born: Governors Island, Bronx, New York, NY, USA

    Place Died: Houston, Harris, TX, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States


    Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Marzio was born to Italian working-class immigrants. The first to complete high school and college in his family, he attended Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA on a football scholarship. An art history class affected him so, he visited the Frick Collection in New York to see an original Goya. After graduating in 1965, Marzio earned an A. M. from the University of Chicago in 1966 and a Ph.D. in art history and American history from the same institution in 1969. His dissertation topic was on drawing manuals of the nineteenth century in the United States. He taught at the University of Maryland and assisted the research for the historian Daniel J. Boorstin in his book The Americans: The Democratic Experience. Boorstin’s book won a Pulitzer prize in 1973. He joined the Smithsonian Institution in Washgington, D. C. as curator of prints and chairman of cultural history. He was a Woodrow Wilson Senior Fellow in 1973. In 1978 Marzio was appointed director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the city. When Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Philippe de Montebell accepted the postion of director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Marzio was hired as his replacement for the Texas museum in 1982. In 1986 he oversaw the sculpture garden designed by Isamu Noguchi. A center for European decorative arts was created through a four-and-a-half acre estate donation in 1991. In 1994 he was seriously considered to head the Museum of Modern Art, NY, but decline further interest to remain in Houston. Marzio’s wife, Frances, served as assitant to the Board of Trustees to the MFA and later curator of the Glassell collection of African Art at the Museum. In 2000, he dedicated the Audry Jones Beck wing of the Museum–she herself donated 46 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings–designed by Rafael Moneo. He died of cancer in 2010. Marzio’s dual focus to increasing collection size and attendance yielded spectacular results. The collection grew from 14000 to 62000 objects and attendance climbed from 380,000 to 2.5 million. He oversaw an endowment increase from $25 million to $1.2 billion (at its height).

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Art of the Crusade: A Study of American Drawing Books and Lithographs, 1830-1860. University of Chicago, 1969;


    [obituaries:] Art in America 99 no.2 (February 2010): 119; Grimes, William. “Peter C. Marzio, Houston Museum Director, Dies at 67.” New York Times December 12, 2010, p. 42.


    "Marzio, Peter Cort." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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