City Cast

How The Menil Collection Became A Houston Icon

Brooke Lewis
Posted on August 29
Two museum guests sit on a black bench and gaze at colorful portraits on a wall.

The Menil Collection has a rich history in Houston. (The Menil Collection/Facebook)

The Menil and its surroundings is one of my favorite parts of the city. I walk around the sprawling green lawns regularly, admiring nearby Rothko Chapel and all the people picnicking or just lazing on the picture-perfect grass. The museum originally opened in 1987 with art from the collection of founders John De Menil and Dominique de Menil, and now contains nearly 19,000 pieces of art. Let’s learn more about this iconic museum. 

The Menils Meet

The founders of the museum, John and Dominique de Menil, originally met at a crowded ball at Versailles in 1930. The two, who were both born in France, married only a year later, and quickly began growing their own personal art collection. When they moved to Houston to escape World War II, their home in River Oaks became its own art oasis. They hosted spirited kitchen table dinners with famous writers, artists, and filmmakers, such as Andy Warhol and Michaelangelo Antonioni. The couple also were highly involved in Houston’s arts scene, serving as patrons to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Contemporary Arts Museum. They also helped organize one of the first racially integrated art shows in the country, “The De Luxe Show” in Fifth Ward.

The Museum Opens

John De Menil passed away in 1973. At the time of his death, the couple had collected more than 10,000 pieces of art. Dominique wanted their dream of opening a museum together to become a reality. She hired Renzo Piano, a Paris architect, to design the building. Since the museum opened in 1987, it has remained a fixture in Houston’s art scene. When you visit, guests can see art in four major areas: the art of antiquity, the art of tribal cultures, twentieth century art, and American art.

Visit The Museum

The Menil is open Wednesdays through Sundays and offers free admission everyday. When you go for a visit, check out more than 100 portraits made by Houston artist Nestor Topchy. An exhibit featuring 63 drawings from Polish artist Si Lewen will end on Sunday. Once you finish exploring the museum, head to their bookstore or grab a bite at their restaurant, Bistro Menil.

So what other Houston museums need to be added to your list? We have a guide for you. [City Cast Houston 🎧]

Do you have a favorite memory at The Menil? Email me.

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