The story begins, in a way, with Ima Hogg. It was her land on which Carroll Sterling Masterson and her husband Harris Masterson III planned to build their home after they purchased it in 1952. The Mastersons, working with renowned architect John Staub, erected a sprawling home they named Rienzi, whose layout blended contemporary elements with homages to Palladian and 18th-century English design. Having dedicated their lives to the arts, the philanthropists gave their home to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in 1991, and the building was opened to the public in 1999.
The Rienzi Museum of Fine Arts Houston now houses the Masterson’s eclectic collection of European decorative arts that they assembled over the course of 40 years, ranging from paintings, furnishings, and miniatures made from the 17th through the mid-19th centuries. Giving visitors of all ages a chance to understand the collection’s nuances, Rienzi staff hosts educational programs and events throughout the year, engaging guests in activities such as sketching sessions, art workshops, and lectures. Along with their dedication to visual arts, the museum celebrates the music of the 17th–19th centuries via live performances of chamber music, opera, and selections from Beethoven’s spoken-word album.
The Rienzi also features gardens designed in the 1950s by landscape architect Ralph Ellis Gunn. Having created a visually stunning green space that embraced the 4.4-acre property’s natural topography, Gunn’s garden remains a tranquil haven of lush plants and scenic trails.