Houston is the home of world-class art. That's due in part to the generosity of Dominique and John de Menil, a French couple who left their Nazi-occupied homeland in 1941, ultimately settling in Houston. As John rose to prominence in the oil industry, he and Dominique developed a passion for collecting art. Inspired by their friendship with Father Marie-Alain Couturier, a Dominican priest who championed a new religious art, the de Menils became fascinated with modern art that served a transcendent purpose. Recognizing spiritual and artistic links between contemporary art and the traditions that preceded it, the couple's enthusiasm soon extended to the arts of tribal cultures, and later to antiquities and medieval and Byzantine art. Houston institutions benefited immensely from their patronage, including the de Menils' Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational chapel with works by mid-century abstract painter Mark Rothko. But the couple's greatest contribution to Houston is their own museum, the Menil Collection, which opened in 1987, fourteen years after John's passing. Dominique guided the museum—watching her lovingly curated collection become a world-renowned institution—until her death in 1997. Housed in buildings designed by famed architect Renzo Piano, the museum is celebrated for its modern and contemporary masterpieces and holds one of the world’s foremost collections of Surrealist art. Just as important, the museum remains true to the de Menils' vision of art as a spiritual pursuit.
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