Little did Dominique Schlumberger, heiress to the Schlumberger Ltd. global oil services company, dream, while growing up in Paris, that she would become the doyenne of culture and creator of a private museum in Houston, Texas.


She married John de Menil who oversaw the Schlumberger enterprise and moved with him to Houston during the Second World War.  The de Menils found Houston“a provincial, dormant place” and became key figures in the development of the city’s cultural life.


Great enthusiasts of modern art and architecture, they commissioned architect Philip Johnson, a former student of Louis Khan, to design their home, one of the first International Style residences in Texas.


Johnde Menil’s purchase of a small Cezanne watercolor in New York City evolved into their 16,000-item collection of 20th century painting and sculpture; ancient art; Byzantine and medieval art; tribal arts of Africa, the Americas and the Pacific; and modern and contemporary photography.



Thede Menils’ belief in the spiritual powers of art led to their commissioning of the magnificent ecumenical Rothko Chapel, repository for 14 of Rothko’s most moving works; a dazzling “sanctuary” for all faiths.  The original concept was Philip Johnson’s but the design was executed by Rothko with Houstonarchitects Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry.  In front of the Chapel one is transfixed by Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” sculpture dedicated to thememory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Architect Renzo Piano designed Dominique de Menil’s delightful museum, a place “small on the outside, but big as possible on the inside, a place where works of art could breathe, where a visitor would never know museum fatigue.  It was Piano’s first commission in the US and  he created a sophisticated roofing system of filtered glass and steel louvers for it to diffuse direct sunlight but allow one to view the art and artifacts in natural light.  The nearby Menil Library houses 30,000 volumes on art and architecture.



Among not to be missed highlights of the Collection are the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall and the rotating exhibitions.


Thanks to the de Menils’ love and knowledge of the arts and their generosity in sharing their treasures with us, we can all marvel at their astounding collection in a magnificent setting.


Admissionto the Menil Collection is Free.   It is open Wednesday to Sunday from11:00 AM – 7:00 PM.

Comments are closed.