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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.

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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

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