Marina A.S. Vaizey

History and literature concentrator fell into career as celebrated art critic

Lady Marina A.S. Vaizey ’59 did not plan on becoming an art critic—after all when she went to Radcliffe College, she only took one class on art and graduated a Medieval History and Literature concentrator. She kind of fell into the profession.

“I became an art critic through a series of accidents and coincidences,” said Vaizey, now a celebrated art critic who has written for the British newspapers, the Financial Times and the Sunday Times.

The Radcliffe alumna says her career started in an Oxford gallery, when its proprietor suggested that she write about the exhibit.

“I always knew I would do something,” she said. “This just happened and it just snowballed from there.”

Vaizey spent a few years working for smaller publications and was eventually picked up by the Financial Times in 1970. While at the Times, she had the opportunity to find undiscovered artists.

But she did not pride herself primarily in her ability to find fresh talent.

“I would hear anecdotally that many more people would come in when a review was published,” she said. “I felt that my job was to get people to go in for themselves.”

Vaizey, who was born January 16, 1938 in New York, attended the Brearley School in New York then the Putney School. A 1959 Radcliffe College graduate, Vaizey, who pointed to numerous classes that she enjoyed, called Harvard sometimes “overwelming.”

“I slightly regretted not going to Swarthmore,” she said. “Even though I am a very old lady I can remember that.”

She later attended Girton College at Cambridge University, according to the British Who’s Who Magazine. There she met her husband Lord John Vaizey in England “through friends of friends,” she said.

He was a “preeminent Englishmen,” according to Elaine G. Yaffe ’59, a friend of Lady Vaizey’s since they were seven.

They married in 1961 and had three children in 1961, 1964, and 1968.

One of her children, Edward Vaizey, is now a Conservative member of Parliament.

Marina Vaizey has lived in the same house in the West London suburb of Chiswick for 42 years. Her husband died in 1984.

“He died tragically very young,” Yaffe said. Vaizey did not remarry.

According to Yaffe, Vaizey told her that she “never met anyone quite like John.”

After working for the Financial Times, Vaizey moved on to the Sunday Times in 1974. Meanwhile, she worked in what she called “a parallel career,” serving on the Arts Council of England and for other arts organizations. She also wrote several art books including “Great Women Collectors,” which she co-authored with Charlotte Gere.

The Queen of England honored Vaizey by naming her a Commander of the British Empire, two levels below knighthood.

Mary C. Swope ’59, a classmate and friend of Vaizey’s, said she thought Vaizey was “very pleased” about being honored, but their conversation about the award focused more on what Vaizey would wear to the palace.

Swope described her friend—who she first met at Brearly—as a “unique personality” and a “good communicator.”

“She was always very observant and she always had her own opinion,” she said. “She always had her own vision, her own way of looking.”

While Vaizey likes to wear jewellery made by up-and-coming crafts people, according to Swope, art collection is not her passion.

“I don’t think she’s mainly a collector. I think she’s a communicator, a thinker, and a writer,” she said.

—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at newcomer@fas.harvard.edu.