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.