Rothko Chapel on the Menil Campus in Houston, Texas

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Photo of the "Broken Obelisk" in a reflection pool outside of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.

Photo of the "Broken Obelisk" in a reflection pool outside of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.

Sacred Places

There are two chapels on the campus of The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. They are worlds apart in most respects, and yet one might also see some similarities. The similarities start from the fact that both are chapels dedicated to quiet reflection. No interior photographs are allowed to be taken. They are a quick walking distance apart.

Both of the chapels were constructed because of the wealth and generosity of Dominique de Menil. She has left Houston with a magnificent legacy. The Menil Collection consists of a grand museum filled with a lifetime collection of incredible art. The addition of these two distinctive chapels on the campus adds to the enjoyment of visiting here.

The exteriors of The Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel are modern in design. Still, they show no hint of what is in the interior to the public. One must venture inside to see the hidden treasures and determine the striking differences for oneself.

Both are open and free of charge to the public. This post will focus solely on the Rothko Chapel.

Exterior of the Rothko Chapel

Exterior of the Rothko Chapel

The Setting

Set in a quiet neighborhood not far from the Museum District of Houston and St. Thomas University, these buildings are nestled in between small bungalow homes. Students from the nearby St. Thomas University often stretch out on this lawn outside of the Rothko Chapel with their books when studying.

Were it not for the much larger museum of the Menil Collection drawing art lovers to this location and then the small unobtrusive signs by the streets pointing the way to both of these chapels, they could easily be overlooked. They might never be noticed by a casual passerby, especially if traveling by automobile.

Lawn outside of the Rothko Chapel

Lawn outside of the Rothko Chapel

The Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is a rather modern and straightforward looking structure. John and Dominique de Menil in 1964 commissioned the famous modern artist Mark Rothko to create his distinctive canvasses specifically for this site.

Rothko had an interest in working with the architects so that space would suit his works of art. He was definitely a "hands-on" participant. As a matter of fact, he often demanded that museums and other venues be readied to his exact specifications before allowing his work to be shown.

Another view of "Broken Obelisk"

Another view of "Broken Obelisk"

Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman

The most distinctive thing one first sees outside of the Rothko Chapel is a reflection pool created by Philip Johnson. It is not merely the reflection pool that grabs one's attention.

The sculpture titled Broken Obelisk constructed by artist Barnet Newman that is mounted there rising up out of the water is so eye-catching. Tall bamboo outlines two sides of this pretty site, and benches are provided for people to sit and rest or even meditate.

When the Menils acquired this Broken Obelisk sculpture and had it relocated here from Washington, D.C., they dedicated it to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior.

Bamboo surrounds two sides of the reflection pool & sculpture outside of the Rothko Chapel.

Bamboo surrounds two sides of the reflection pool & sculpture outside of the Rothko Chapel.

Mark Rothko Paintings

The non-denominational Rothko Chapel was completed in 1971. Inside the central area, one discovers an octagonal shaped room with 14 primarily black canvasses. They have slight variations of color on these large pieces of art which dominate the interior walls.

Wooden benches are arranged along the walls. They are also placed in a somewhat circular pattern in the middle of the room.

We have been there when some large smooth black rocks were situated in the center of the room. It almost has a zen-like feeling inside this chapel. A hushed atmosphere prevails in this modern art space.

You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me – and my works of art are places where the two sadnesses can meet, and therefore both of us need to feel less sad.

— Mark Rothko

National Register of Historic Places

The Rothko Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 16, 2000. Mark Rothko never saw this chapel with his name on it completed as his suicide death preceded its completion.

The video below shows a bit about Rothko as a person as well as showing some of his paintings. He was an irascible character, to say the least!

I'm not an abstractionist. I'm not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.

— Mark Rothko

Musical Piece

Morton Feldman wrote a musical piece called "The Rothko Chapel" in 1971. There are numerous youtube videos playing portions of it, one of which is included for your enjoyment in the video below.

The video portrays some of Rothko's paintings in other locations. Look at the 47 to 115-second part of the video to see the large dark canvasses inside of this chapel.


I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about this unique chapel structure. If you like the art of Mark Rothko and currently live or are visiting Houston, Texas, be sure to check out this chapel dedicated solely to his paintings.

The address of the Rothko Chapel is 1409 Sul Ross St., Houston, Texas 77006.

I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene, whether in friendship or mere observation, that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface.

— Mark Rothko


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 20, 2020:

Hi Amy,

I also love that "Broken Obelisk" sculpture in the pool next to the Rothko Chapel. It does serve as a little oasis in the heart of the city.

Amy on August 20, 2020:

Such a peaceful setting in the heart of the booming Houston metropolis. Love the sculpture.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2020:

Hi Rajan,

Some people view Rothco's paintings as meditative, but all of those dark canvases can also serve other interpretations. I guess only the artist knew the real intent of what he was creating.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 25, 2020:

Wonder why many of the paintings by Mark Rothco in the chapel are so depressing? Was this a reflection of his inner turmoil? Thanks for sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2020:

Hi Pamela,

Perhaps that was the intent of the artist when he painted these dark canvasses. There is little to distract a person from their own thoughts.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2020:

Hi Ruby,

I cannot answer your question as to why all the black and the suicide. Obviously this artist had his personal demons.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2020:

Hi Pamela,

I am glad that you found this informative. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2020:

Hi Lorna,

When I found those quotes attributed to Mark Rothko, pairing them with his dark canvasses, I agree with you that it was undoubtedly a cry for help.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2020:

Hi Bill,

Surrounded on two sides by those tall stands of bamboo, that obelisk in the pond of water makes for a pretty view.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 25, 2020:

Hi Liz,

I agree that the water sets off the broken obelisk to good effect.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 25, 2020:

Hi Rosina,

As you mentioned, that broken obelisk is lovely. That is my favorite part of visiting the Rothko Chapel.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 25, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

Some people appreciate the artwork of Mark Rothko. I have to admit that even his more colorful large canvasses do not do much for me. As to the darkness of the chapel, perhaps without distractions, it serves as a place of meditation? I am not sure. I prefer the sculpture and pond on the outside of the chapel.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 25, 2020:

This chapel is unique for many reasons. I think dedicating the obelisk to Martin Luther King is very nice. The artist doing painting that reflect human emotions rather than being totally concerned with color or form is also unique. I think being able to just sit inside on the benchs would be a great time for reflection. I like this chapel, Peggy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 25, 2020:

Hi Robert,

There are probably other similar-designed sculptures around the world. Do you remember where you saw it in San Antonio?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 24, 2020:

Hi Patricia,

If you come back to Houston, give us a call. We can visit this place and many others. My thoughts are with you. Email me if you feel like it.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 23, 2020:

This was very interesting. I watched the video, I wonder why all the black and why the suicide? I would like to visit the chapel.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 23, 2020:

This chapel looks like a nice place to visit. I watched the videos to see the art and found it to be very interesting also.

Lorna Lamon on April 23, 2020:

I was fascinated by this article Peggy and when I viewed his paintings in the video they left me feeling rather cold. There is a starkness about their quality which I have only ever seen in paintings I once viewed in Berlin which portrayed the horror of the holocaust. His quote on sadness really touched me - a cry for help perhaps.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 23, 2020:

The obelisk is spectacular. I would go to the chapel just to sit and look at that.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 23, 2020:

I have learnt a lot about this chapel and the sculpture near it. The water sets the broken obelisk off to good effect

Rosina S Khan on April 23, 2020:

I found it intriguing to know about Rothko Chapel which is dedicated to solely to Mark Rothko's paintings. Of course, there are other featues outside of the chapel like "The Broken Obelisk" and its lovely surroundings that make it an attractive site. Thank you, Peggy, for sharing a great hub.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 22, 2020:

This person’s quotes, black canvases, and ultimately his suicide are such a downer. I wonder what would really inspire someone to visit other than wallowing in their misery? Their are writers that do the same though.

Robert Sacchi on April 22, 2020:

The Broken Obelisk sculpture looks similar to a sculpture I saw in San Antonio in the '70s.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 22, 2020:

This is definitely a place I should see. The quote referencing sadness speaks loudly to me at present. Take care.

Be safe. Be strong. Angels headed your way.

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