Villa Wesendonck and Rieterpark

  • Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck
    The history of the site on which the Museum Rietberg stands today begins in the summer of 1857, when Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck, a couple from Wuppertal, moved into their newly-built, grand, neo-classical house, today's Villa Wesendonck. Otto Wesendonck, a shareholder in a silk trading company, had come to Zurich from New York in 1851, to set up home with his 24-year-old wife Mathilde. The Wesendoncks' new home soon became a cultural meeting place.

  • Richard Wagner in Zurich
    The Wesendoncks hosted a wide circle of artists, intellectuals and academics. They were particularly fond of the composer Richard Wagner who had fled to Zurich from Germany in 1849. They gave Wagner and his wife Minna a home in the half-timbered house beside their villa (today's Villa Schönberg) which Wagner called his “asylum on the green hill”.

    If one is to believe the glowing letters and declarations of love which he wrote to Mathilde, his muse, during his sixteen-month stay on “the green hill”, Wagner had fallen completely under her spell. Inspired by this love, he completed the handwritten libretto of “Tristan and Isolde” and set down on paper the first sketches of the opera.

    Mathilde, five of whose poems Wagner set to music (the Wesendonck Songs), was similarly inspired and entranced by her conversations, musical performances and readings with the composer. On New Year's Eve 1857, Wagner gave his beloved muse the draft score of 'Tristan and Isolde' with a poem dedicated to her: “Full of joy, empty of pain, pure and free, forever with thee”.

  • The Wesendonck Lieder
    The intimate relationship between Mathilde Wesendonck and Wagner and the jealous reaction of Minna Wagner led to a crisis: Wagner separated from his wife, but also from Mathilde, and in August 1858 hastily left his “asylum” and travelled to Venice. In 1871, the Wesendoncks sold their property on the Green Hill and returned to Germany.

    The time of the Rieter family
    In the following decades the villa was occupied by the Rieter family who came from Winterthur. Rieterpark and the Rietberg take their name from the family. In September 1912 the German Emperor Wilhelm II stayed in the villa for a few days as a guest of Bertha Rieter-Bodmer. In 1945 the City of Zurich bought the 67,000-square metre Rieterpark and the Villa Wesendonck which became the Museum Rietberg in 1952.