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iolas de menil

John and Dominique de Menil began collecting art in the 1940s, amassing some 10.000 paintings, sculptures, decorative objects, prints, drawings, photographs, and rare books. They were deeply influenced by three figures: Father Marie-Alain Couturier, an advocate for incorporating modern art into the Catholic Church; the international art dealer Alexander Iolas; and the esteemed San Francisco-based curator Jermayne MacAgy. By 1950, the de Menils began organizing exhibitions in Houston (at the University of Saint Thomas, the Contemporary Arts Association, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Rice University); the also lent  works to national and international museums.

Spanning the prehistoric era to the present day, the collection represents eclectic passions more than an interest in encyclopedic chronology. European art emerged early on as a core strength: Surrealist works by Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy, as well as Cubist and School of Paris paintings by Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. By the 1960s the de Menils had gravitated toward the American postwar movements of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism. Over the years they cultivated  friendships with many of the artists whose work they collected in depth, including Victor Brauner, Max Ernst, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, René Magritte, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol.

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

In part due to disillusionment with conventional museums, the couple began thinking about building a museum of their own, one that would feel like home to first-time and seasoned museumgoers as well as artists, art historians, and scholars. Free of charge and to be called The Menil Collection (dropping the “de” Anglicized the family name and had the effect of democratizing the enterprise), it would be an intimate place that encouraged the  unhurried contemplation of art, in solo display and in dialogue with other works in the collection. Nearly doubling in size since the 1997 death of Dominique, who survived her husband by twenty-five years, the collection now stands at some 17,000 works. And it continues to grow.

c.o :Menil Collection