Dominique and John de Menil
No study of the Rothko Chapel’s history or mission is complete without an appreciation of its visionary founders, Dominique and John de Menil.
Both were greatly moved throughout their lives by the monumental struggles of mankind and the human condition. They were strong believers in the power of dialogue, spirituality, and the transformative power of art.
The de Menils were inspired by the global ecumenical movement, the Second Vatican Council, and France’s efforts to bring modern art and architecture into places of worship. “In the summer of 1952,” Mrs. de Menil said, “we visited…the churches where Fernand Léger and Henri Matisse, two towering artists of their time, had contributed their greatest work. We visited also the site where Le Corbusier was going to build his famous Chapel of Ronchamp. We saw what a master could do for a religious building when he is given a free hand. He can exalt and uplift as no one else.”
These experiences led to the de Menils commissioning artist Mark Rothko in 1964 to create a sacred space for Houston.
In addition to a lifetime of activism and philanthropy, the de Menils’ other contributions to Houston’s—and the world’s—rich culture include the Menil Collection, the Cy Twombly Gallery, and the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall.
John died in 1973; Dominique, in 1997.
As Mrs. de Menil described it,
"The Rothko Chapel is oriented towards the sacred, and yet it imposes no traditional environment. It offers a place where a common orientation could be found – an orientation towards God, named or unnamed, an orientation towards the highest aspirations of Man and the most intimate calls of the conscience."