The museum was built between 1824 and 1826 by the architect Samuel Vaucher on behalf of the Société des arts. It was partly paid for with funds that General Simon Rath (1766–1819) had bequeathed to his sisters, Jeanne-Françoise and Henriette Rath, for such a purpose; the remainder was paid by the state of Geneva. Vaucher designed the building as a temple of the muses, inspired by Ancient Greek temples.
At first the museum was used for both permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as art teaching and as a cultural meeting place. By 1880 it had become too small for its collections. Since the opening of the larger Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in 1910, the Musée Rath has been devoted to temporary exhibitions of Swiss and international art, and archaeology.
The museum has been owned by the city of Geneva since 1851. The building has been under cultural heritage management since 1921.
- Le Musée Rath, "temple des muses" In: Feuille d'Avis Officielle de la République et du Canton de Genève, 254th year, no. 92., 11 August 2006, p. 1. Retrieved 22 August 2010. (French)
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