Above the door is a giant mural, depicting Wotan, King of the Gods and the philandering wanderer, being welcomed by classical women. We should also note that Wotan was the name of Wagner’s beloved St Bernard dog.
After the house had been seriously damaged in a bombing raid in 1945, grandson Wieland Wagner decided to rebuild the villa in a more modern manner. Fortunately for history, these alterations were later removed when the house was restored to its original appearance.
Wahnfried has been a museum since 1976, displaying with a wide range of Wagner memorabilia, including manuscripts, pianos, furnishings, artefacts and set designs. The Richard Wagner Museum is going to celebrate Wagner’s 200th birthday in 2013 so the timing is perfect for refurbishing Wahnfried Haus in general and for extending the Richard Wagner Museum in particular.
What does the interior look like? The whole house was a place where Wagner could compose, raise his family and entertain guests. The Grand Hall is a two-storey space with a gallery around the second floor and a skylight in the ceiling. Furnishings include two of Wagner's pianos and numerous busts. The specially designed Bechstein piano was the piano Wagner used to compose Meistersinger, part of Siegfried and Parsifal. It was a present from the endlessly patient, endlessly generous King Ludwig II for Wagner's birthday in 1864.
To the right is the dining room and to the left the Purple Drawing Room, where Wagner's wife Cosima Liszt von Bülow Wagner received visitors. Both are exhibition rooms now, the dining room focusing on Wahnfried's history.
Wagner's richly decorated study was a gathering place for family, as well as a music room and library. The semi-circular bay looks out onto the back garden. Now it is used as a concert space where visitors can hear Wagner’s music.
The mezzanine level was where the family had their dressing rooms. The one to the right showcases Wagner's life in the 1840s, while the one to the left covers the 1850s and early 1860s. Today the dressing rooms have exhibits on the post-war Bayreuth Festivals.
The second floor was where the bedroom of Wagner’s son Siegfried had been, directly over the vestibule. Now it displays artefacts from Richard Wagner's early life. To the east are the three bedrooms of Wagner's two daughters and two step-daughters. They contain exhibitions from Wagner's later life.
Grand Hall with the two pianos
Some of the rooms are dedicated specifically to the Bayreuth Festival. The large room over the study was the nursery; now it focuses on the first thirty years of the Festival. The displays in Cosima's old bedroom cover the Festival from 1908 to 1930, while materials in the master bedroom deal with the 1930s. Wagner's private study concentrates on the post WW2 Festivals. The basement level has displays of Bayreuth Festival stage designs.
Richard Wagner did not die in his home. Rather he died in Venice while visiting in 1883, but his family had his body brought to Bayreuth for burial. In 1886, the composer Franz Liszt died in Bayreuth while visiting his daughter Cosima Liszt, Wagner's widow. So Liszt was also buried in this smallish town.
Back of Wahnfried Haus. Ivy-covered tomb of Richard and Cosima
I recommend Paul Doolan's journal article called "Wagner & Mathilde" in History Today, November 2011. The story of their relationship and its impact on Wagner's life started long before Wahnfried Haus was built in 1872-74, but the disruptions and frustrations Wagner suffered in the early decades predicted the man he became in his later decades.