Mark Rothko, Rothko Chapel (1971)

Mark Rothko, Rothko Chapel (1971). Houston, Texas.

Dedicated on 1971, the Rothko Chapel is a non-denominational chapel that was conceived and created by Mark Rothko (September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970), the Russian-born painter who worked in America and is famous for his abstract paintings of large blocks of color. The work was commissioned by the great collectors John and Dominique de Menil of Houston, Texas. Their de Menil Museum is nearby and has one of the greatest collections of Surrealist art in the country, if not the world. The Rothko Chapel is open to all faiths and followers, many great leaders have spoken here including Nelson Mandela.

The de Menil's idea for the chapel came from their visits to Fernand Léger's stained-glass windows at the Sacré Coeur in Audincourt, the Chapelle de Saint-Marie du Rosaire, designed by Henri Matisse with windows and murals by the artist, and Le Corbusier’s design for Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. They were interested in the idea of church and art and how it had evolved. The original idea was a Catholic chapel but the other organization involved, University of St. Thomas, wanted too stringent of a policy for visitors and the set-up so the de Menil's moved the site and created the non-denominational space that is there now.

The Chapel was commissioned in 1964 and went through many different phases of design and revision. The Chapel building itself was designed first by Phillip Johnson, and then subsequently by Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry. Johnson left the project because of creative differences with Rothko. The final building standing was an amalgamation of the three architects that became the perfect display space for the eight site-specific paintings Rothko created to hang on the walls.

The eight paintings, including three triptychs (paintings of more than one panel) are all painted mostly in black with a variation in color and hue. They are by no means fourteen black panels. The colors deepen and fade as one moves in front of the work and no two panels are the same. Large canvases, they take up almost the entirety of the walls and imbue the space with a serenity not seen in most religious spaces. The tone of the room is meditative and tranquil and the paintings seem to at once pulse with life and be at perfect stillness.

The Chapel was finished and dedicated in 1971, but Mark Rothko did not live to see his final product. He committed suicide in his studio on February 20, 1970. This space is a testament to his ability to communicate through deceptively simple paintings. His work is characterized as abstract expressionism but he often spoke of rejecting that title or any. He saw himself, and art, as outside of the labels that seem to be necessary to categorize what we feel and see.

I strongly urge anyone who happens to be in Houston to visit this amazing space. It is truly a wonder. It is open every day to anyone, all year long.

The Rothko Chapel
1409 Sul Ross Street
Houston, TX 77006-4829
(713) 524-9839

Dominique de Ménil sitting in the Chapel, 1987.


  1. All the times I've been to Houston, I had no clue this was there! Next time I go, both this and the de Ménil Museum will be on my list of must-sees!


  3. I understand that he killed himself shortly after completing these canvases.

    I will never understand suicide.

  4. Love the Rothko room in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., too. The atmosphere the whole room gave to me was very significant.
    I would love to visit here, too!