The Menil Collection

René Magritte; Golconda (Golconde); 1953. Image and original data provided by The Menil Collection, Houston; © 2014 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Artstor and the Menil Foundation are sharing approximately 200 images of highlights from the Menil Collection.

The Menil Collection opened to the public in June 1987 to house, exhibit, and preserve the art collection of John and Dominique de Menil. Assembled over the course of many decades by the Houston philanthropists, the collection is recognized not only for its quality and depth but also for its distinctive presentation and eclecticism. An actively collecting institution, the Menil Collection contains diverse holdings representing many world cultures and thousands of years of human creativity, from prehistoric times to the present. Today, the collection comprises over 16,000 objects.

John and Dominique de Menil began collecting art intensively in the 1940s, amassing thousands of objects that included paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, functional items, and rare books. A core strength of the growing collection was European art, including Surrealist works by Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy, and Cubist and School of Paris painters including Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. By the 1960s the de Menils had gravitated toward the major American postwar movements of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism.

As modernists, the de Menils recognized a profound formal and spiritual connection between contemporary works of art and the arts of ancient and indigenous cultures, broadening the collection to include works from classical Mediterranean civilizations and the Byzantine Empire, as well as objects from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Northwest.

Working with the architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Dominique de Menil envisioned a building that seemed “large on the inside but small on the outside.” The interior galleries and storage areas are spacious enough to accommodate the vast collection but also intimate. In keeping with the egalitarian beliefs of its founding patrons, the Menil charges no admission fee.