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Remarque and his art collection: ‘In order that each day may be filled to the brim with beauty’

For Erich Maria Remarque, Impressionists, often mentioned in his novels, were something more than just an object of admiration. The writer had first-hand knowledge of the world of art: he himself owned a massive collection that included works by Van Gogh, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir — just to mention a few. Remarque’s collection played a very special role in his personal life, too.
The writer’s love for art helped him meet his best friend, the gallerist Walter Feilchenfeldt, get over Marlene Dietrich after their painful break-up, and finally, despite his ill-fated attraction towards actresses (which always ended in failure), find his last and only and true love, the Hollywood star Paulette Goddard.

‘Beauty is the perfection, which like infinity, we try to meet but never succeed in doing. … I put that which enriches my life and endows it with wonder and meaning here beside me in my home where it is visible in order that each day may be filled to the brim with beauty.'
Erich Maria Remarque
It is commonly believed that only those can treasure every moment and have a special sense of beauty who have experienced extreme emotional and psychological distress. Quite a share of it fell to Remarque’s lot. Aged twenty, he returned from the front line of World War I. He had been appalled at the inane bloodshed and complete disregard for human life, and for a long time, he could not find inner peace and readjust himself to civil life. When the Nazis took power in Germany, he was thirty. His books were found unpatriotic, forbidden, and put to fire. At forty, Remarque was a refugee in America. Like his characters, he had made his way of grief, his Via Dolorosa to finally become ‘a Militant Pacifist.' But whatever adversities paved his way, there were two things that always inspired him: his literary writing and his passion for art.

For Remarque, art was an indicator of mankind’s progress, of humanistic values. He viewed it as a weapon against, and antidote to barbarism, persecution, dictatorship, and menace of war.

Erich Maria Remarque at his villa in Porto Ronco, Switzerland. 1950—1960. Photo from:

World fame and the beginning of an art collector

In 1928, ten years after World War I was over, Remarque, to rid himself of demons of war haunting him, wrote the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The book made him world-famous. Money from royalties and film rights started flowing in.

Having woken up this rich, Remarque decided to invest the money into shares, gold, and real estate, and his new romantic companion Ruth Albu advised him to purchase artworks. Ruth, an actress in Berlin and an art collector’s daughter, was quite knowledgeable about antiquities. When Remarque, in 1931, bought a villa at Lake Maggiore, in Porto Ronco, Switzerland, she helped him in decorating the interiors.
Soon, the writer’s house filled with elegant antiques that revealed their owner’s aesthetic preferences. Bronze statuettes, vases by old Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek ceramists, rococo furniture, 17th-century Persian carpets, Venetian glass — all these wonderful pieces made by masters of ages past and gone assuaged the anxiety of the writer’s heart. Enthusiastically, he plunged into art history buying dozens of books. As time passed, the research work of his own, meeting art dealers, visiting museums, and studying his collection would make Remarque not only a perceptive connoisseur of art, but an erudite collector and expert as well.

Pinedjem I (the High Priest of Amun at Thebes from 1070 to 1032 BC). Egypt, 1075—944 BC. Blue faience. Photo from:
‘It takes time, patience, and love to become a connoisseur.'
Erich Maria Remarque. Shadows in Paradise.

  • Oenochoe. A red-figured empty wine jug. Greece, IV cent. BC. Sold at Sotheby in 1977. Private collection. Photo from:
  • Lekythoi. Two black-figured vessels. Greece, V cent. BC. Sold at Sotheby in 1977. Private collection. Photo from:
His knowledge of art Remarque ‘imparted' to the characters of his books. An expert was the role taken, out of necessity, by the journalist Robert Ross, a refugee from Germany, the protagonist of the novel Shadows in Paradise. For two years, he was hiding from the Nazis in the Brussels Museum. In the daytime, he stayed locked up in a small storeroom and did not dare move, and at night, he walked about the museum studying the Impressionist paintings and the extensive collection of Chinese bronzes the museum was famous for.

When Ross came to America, he got hired by the prominent New York art dealer and collector Silvers. His new assistant’s knowledge allowed Silvers to often introduce Ross to his clients as a curator of the Louvre. ‘During my stay in the Brussels Museum I had learned one thing: that objects begin to speak only after you have looked at them for a long time, and that the ones that speak soonest are never the best. <…> In this way I gradually learned the feel of patinas. On summer evenings I would peer into the cases for hours, and so became a good judge of texture, though I had never seen the colours by proper daylight. But, above all, my studies in the dark had in course of time given me a blind man’s heightened sense of touch.'

Ding (Chinese ceremonial vessel). China, the Western Zhou dynasty. Private collection. Photo from: sotheby’s.

‘The bronze had had the right feel in the shop; the contours and reliefs were sharp, which may have been the reason for the museum expert’s opinion, but to me they did not seem new. When I closed my eyes and felt them slowly and carefully, I became more and more convinced that the piece was very old.
I had seen a similar bronze in Brussels. At first the curator had taken it for a Tang or Ming copy. The Chinese had begun long ago — as early as the Han dynasty at the beginning of our era — to bury copies of Shang and Chou bronzes; the patina on these pieces was just about perfect, and it was very hard to identify them unless there were slight mistakes in the ornaments or defects in the casting.'

Cat. Bronze. Egypt, 664—332 BC. Private collection. The sculpture was sold at Sotheby in 1977 by the writer’s widow. Photo from:
Remarque, a true man of letters, renders his own feelings to explain his singular fondness for bronzes, when he describes the gentle warmth of their patina (‘They … gave me a strange sense of being at home.') or speaks of the materialised illusion of eternity that someone, centuries ago, was lucky to find.

Two comrades: ‘Boni und Feilchen’

In 1930, Ruth Albu introduced Remarque to Walter Feilchenfeldt, a leading expert in Modernist painting in Europe. His was a crucial role in the progressive transformation of the amount of art objects amassed by Remarque into one of the best private collections of that time. In his turn, the writer, who possessed a fabulous fortune, became a very important client for the art dealer in the years of the Great Depression in Germany. As time passed, a true, long-lasting friendship developed from their affinity and their mutual interest in art where Walter was Remarque’s teacher as well as his expert. Remarque addressed the gallerist with the friendly name of Feilchen, and Walter, like Remarque’s other friends, called him Boni.

Remarque was passionate about Impressionist art and bought from Walter works by Monet, Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne, and Renoir. One of his first purchases was Degas’s pastel drawing Three Dancers.
By the moment he met Remarque, Walter, for some years, had been running Paul Cassirer’s famous gallery in Berlin. After Hitler’s coming to power, Feilchenfeldt acted in a self-sacrificing and risky way. He did his best to support art collectors and advised his clients to loan the artworks they owned to exhibitions outside Germany to prevent the collections from being confiscated by the Nazis. He himself had succeeded in holding a few ‘saving' exhibitions in Switzerland and Holland before he was denaturalised in 1933 (like many other Jews in Germany) and was denied his legal right to work. Only in 1940, he got a residence permit in Switzerland, and only in 1948, he was allowed to work. After leaving Germany, Feilchenfeldt roamed about Europe. He could be met in Amsterdam, where there was an offshoot of Paul Cassirer’s gallery, and in London and Paris, where he established contacts. For some time, he lived in Zurich and frequently visited Remarque’s villa. At that villa, Walter and his wife spent the summer of 1934.

A high-calibre professional, Feilchenfeldt had to work without legal rights and in constant fear of deportation, and quite a number of the episodes of his vagrancy can be found in Remarque’s novels Arch of Triumph and Flotsam (titled in German Liebe deinen Nächsten — Love Thy Neighbour).
Erich Maria Remarque, Walter Feilchenfeldt, Jutta Zambona (the writer’s first wife), and Marianne Breslauer (the gallerist’s wife) at the writer’s villa in Porto Ronco, Switzerland. 1933—1935. Photo from:

Remarque became the godfather of Walter Feilchenfeldt’s son. As the Feilchenfeldts' family legend has it, Remarque only agreed to be the godfather on condition that the boy was named after him. But the parents detested the name Erich and used the writer’s middle name. So Feilchen’s son was called Walter Maria Feilchenfeldt. Today, this Walter Feilchenfeldt is well-known as an expert in Van Gogh and Cézanne, the author of monographs about these artists and catalogues of their works, and one of the creators of the online catalogue raisonné of Paul Cézanne's paintings. Besides, he published the work Boni and Feilchen. The Collector and His Dealer, that was then included, as a chapter, into the book Remarque’s Impressionists: Art Collecting and Art Dealing in Exile.

The most prominent piece in Remarque’s collection was Van Gogh's The Railway Bridge over Avenue Montmajour, which had earlier belonged to famous actress Tilla Durieux. The writer acquired the canvas in December, 1933, and paid for it all the fee he had got for a series of short stories published in the American magazine Collier’s. This painting was one of Remarque’s greatest joys. Wherever he lived, he would take it along. This townscape would always be hanging in front of him in his living room — a picture full of an acute sensation of desperate loneliness so familiar to him.
Cézanne's paintings had a special fascination for Remarque. Of all of the painter’s works, Remarque found Cézanne's water-colours to be of the highest artistic merits. Cézanne was Remarque’s longest-standing passion that lasted for years and years. Of the 150 pieces Remarque had in his collection, eighteen were by Cézanne.

Later, the writer had an opportunity to take part in a project aimed at the preservation of his favourite painter’s artistic legacy. Remarque was one of those who sponsored the Cézanne Memorial Committee founded in 1952 that would buy out Paul Cézanne's studio in Aix-en-Provence. In 1954, the house was turned into the painter’s museum, L’atelier Cézanne.

Paul Cezanne. Two skulls

Paul Cézanne. Still Life with Two Skulls. 1890. Photo from:

In 1939, Remarque, through Walter’s mediation, bought his first Cézanne, the large canvas Dans la plaine de Bellevue (On the Plain of Bellevue). As though Walter felt that was the last deal they were engaged in together, he gave Remarque, as a present, Cézanne's water-colour Still Life with Two Skulls, and jokingly called it their companion portrait. Shortly afterwards, war would separate them for years, and Remarque would frequently write letters to him whom he called the only friend of his young years.

Remarque, Dietrich, Cézanne. Which one is the ‘third-person-out’?

In 1939, at the Venice Film Festival, Remarque met Marlene Dietrich. She, a goddess among film stars, and he, an individualistic intellectual — they seemed to be poles apart. However, they had a lot in common: they both early achieved success, were financially independent, and each of them, some time before, had demonstrated in public their disgust at the Nazis although neither of them was a Jew; then they both emigrated to America; and each had gone through a personal crisis before the war. Remarque wrote in his letter to the actress, ‘We have much too much past and no future in sight.'

Some details of their affair Remarque would later describe in the novel Arch of Triumph.
Marlene Dietrich and Erich Maria Remarque

Marlene Dietrich in her New York apartment. 1948. Photo from:

Remarque was completely obsessed by Dietrich. The actress’s fickleness and coldness of manner tortured him, he was jealous of her admirers and lovers who were still there even after he came into her life. The writer’s salvation, in the periods of agonies, depression, and jealousy, were new acquisitions for his collection — and Cézanne's water-colours comforted him more than ever.

Well, the only thing beyond Marlene’s control was the writer’s collection, the passion with which he pursued his hobby. So Cézanne's above all? OK — and Dietrich now and then demanded the French artist’s paintings to be given to her as a proof of the writer’s love. Remarque readily lavished elegant jewellery on his woman, and gave her works by Corot, Cézanne, and Delacroix (she herself owned several landscape paintings by Corot and Utrillo).

Their relationship did not last long, but it took the writer years to fully free himself from the obsession called Marlene. And after that, their affair would appear to have been just a great illusion full of lies and self-deception. Once, when talking to his translator and friend, Remarque would confess to her that, not to let Marlene go, he would have had to donate all his collection to her.
‘Pictures,' said Silvers, ‘are refugees like yourself. You refugees often end up in strange places. Whether you’re happy about it is another question.'

Erich Maria Remarque. Shadows in Paradise.

The Promised Land

Right before the war, in September, 1939, Remarque came to America and settled in Los Angeles. His first year in the United States was hard: though financially independent, he remained lonely and depressed after his displacement. Art and collecting artworks became an essential part of his life in emigration.
At that time, there were no big museums and galleries in Los Angeles. When in 1940, Sam Salz, an art dealer and a refugee, opened there an affiliated branch of his gallery, Remarque was one of the first to visit it. Ironically, Salz was Feilchenfeldt’s sworn enemy, but Remarque again became a lifeline for Salz and introduced him to Hollywood actors and producers.

Salz did his best to find Cézannes for Remarque, but he drew the writer’s attention to other Modernists, too. Remarque’s collection widened as it included the works by artists that were new to him: Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo, Picasso, Daumier, and Pissarro.

Camille Pissarro. Portrait of a girl with a doll.
In September 1940, Remarque’s collection arrived in Los Angeles at last — he had been separated from his ‘Cézannes, Degas, and Renoirs' for more than a year. Remarque immediately unpacked them to decorate his new apartment, and after that, he wrote in his diary, ‘A feeling of home in these things.' A few days later, he invited his new friends to see his collection. The guests included Sam Salz, the literary agent Otto Klement, the actor Edward G. Robinson, the film director Josef von Sternberg (these last two both art collectors themselves), the actress Elisabeth Bergner (with her husband), the New York art dealer Germain Seligman, and Marlene Dietrich.

In the summer of 1940, Remarque changed his old attitudes to art collecting. Usually, only his friends had been allowed to see his collection — now he wanted to share it with the public. In February 1941, the writer loaned four items to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the French Painting from David to Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition, and in January 1942, his Van Gogh went to an exhibition at the Rosenberg Gallery, New York.

On making a close acquaintance with Roland McKinney, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum, Remarque loaned his entire collection there to be presented as the E. M. R. Collection at the exhibition held from November 1942 to July 1943. It was a prominent event for the city, and it did not go unnoticed.
When Remarque came to New York, he became even more active. He got acquainted with a lot of New York gallery owners including Paul Rosenberg, Germain Seligman, Georges Wildenstein, Alfred Salmony. Besides, he continued buying art and associated with famous private art collectors. On the one hand, he was eager to see their collections, on the other hand, these people were objects of his own observations to be ‘used' later in his novels: ‘Tell one of these fresh-baked millionaires to buy a Renoir, and he’ll laugh at you. He’ll think it’s a bicycle. But tell him a Renoir will improve his social standing, and he’ll take half a dozen!' (Shadows in Paradise).

In 1943, at the Knoedler Galleries, there was another exhibition of Remarque’s collection featuring thirteen paintings, 32 works on paper, and two Fayum mummy portraits. The New York Times critic Edward Alden Jewell wrote that the Remarque Collection played ‘an uncommonly large role' in the art season. After the Knoedler show, most of the items of the Remarque collection went to an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and later, they were sent to the Kunsthaus Zurich.

His works by Cézanne Remarque loaned to the Metropolitan Museum, where they stayed from 1949 to 1956, and then, until 1979, they were on display in the Kunsthaus Zurich.
The public, critics, and art collectors — all acknowledged Remarque as one of the most important art collectors and connoisseurs of his time.

Portrait of a woman. Fayum mummy portrait. 2nd cent. AD. Encaustic on panel. Private collection. Photo from:

Remarque’s collection included two Fayum mummy portraits, rare examples of Ancient Egyptian art of the Roman era. In the early 20th century, they belonged to Rudolf Mosse, a German publisher of Jewish origin, who owned a most extensive art collection. He died in 1920 and left everything to his daughter Felicia Lachmann-Mosse. The Nazis expropriated the collection, of which more than 400 items were then sold at an auction in 1934. It remains obscure when and where Remarque got these portraits, as he never purchased artworks of dubious provenance. In the 1970s, the Kunsthaus Zurich bought the Fayum portraits at an auction, and in 2015, it restituted them to the Mosse family’s heirs.

Portrait of a bearded man. Fayum mummy portrait. 2nd cent. AD. Encaustic
These amazing works of art, which are often called "icons before icon painting", are notable not only for their historical significance. They can serve as an excellent and impressive illustration of the mutual penetration of cultures. Read more
on panel. Private collection. Photo from:
In New York, Remarque loved visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art that every time inspired him for philosophical meditation and gave marvellous comfort to the writer’s restless heart.
‘On my first visit to the Metropolitan I was afraid that other memories would rise up in me, but this museum seemed to enfold me in the same sheltering stillness. Even the furious battle scenes on the walls seemed to emanate peace, a peace that had something metaphysical about it, a peace removed from time. Here in these rooms I suddenly had the pure and boundless feeling of life that the Hindus call ‘samadhi,' a feeling one never quite loses once one has known it. One knows forever after that life is eternal and that we, too, can partake of eternal life if only we succeed in sloughing off the snakeskin of the ego and in understanding that death is transformation. I had had this insight while looking at El Greco’s sublimely sombre view of Toledo, which hangs directly beside his much larger portrait of the Grand Inquisitor, that prototype of the Gestapo and of all the tortures in the world. I did not know whether there was any connection between the two; in that luminous moment I felt that all things were at once connected and unconnected, and that connections, coherence, were nothing but a human crutch, half He and half imponderable truth. But what was the difference between an imponderable truth and an imponderable lie?'
Shadows in Paradise.
‘Miracles always wait for us somewhere around the despair.'
Erich Maria Remarque

Mount of happiness

In 1948, Remarque returned to his villa Casa Monte Tabor in Switzerland. In the 1930s, it had been his stronghold where to retreat from the Nazis, and now it was his paradise where he would live with his second wife, the Hollywood actress Paulette Goddard. For both of them, it would be their last and happiest marriage. Paulette helped him feel the joy of life again, his melancholy could not resist the actress’s sunny, easy disposition. They travelled about Europe a lot, visiting, one by one, St. Moritz, Salzburg, Vienna, London, Paris, Cannes, Venice, and Paulette’s favourite city of Rome.

They both loved art. Long before she met Remarque, Paulette had collected art objects, too. She was into antique furniture, Ancient Egyptian and Asian applied art, and pre-Columbian cultures. In 1947, she and her third husband Burgess Meredith had opened an antique shop and the High Tor Associates gallery in the state of New York.
Paulette Goddard and Erich Maria Remarque at the villa in Porto Ronco, Switzerland. 1960s

Paulette Goddard. Photo from:

Besides, the actress had a superb collection of Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, and Paul Flato jewellery and exclusive decorations designed by Salvador Dalí. Paulette Goddard never bought jewellery, but all her husbands and admirers were well aware what exactly she would be delighted with. When she was not cast as Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, the two presents became a consolation to her: a diamond brooch from Jock Whitney, an investor of the film, and a set of a pair of earrings and a bracelet from her second husband Charlie Chaplin.

Paulette’s collection included works by Diego Rivera, whom she met in Mexico during a photo shoot for the Look magazine.

She was living in the San Angel Inn across from his studio. She chanced to learn that the police were preparing to arrest him, and she warned the painter. Helped by her, he crossed the border, came to California, and told the reporters who were meeting him that Paulette had saved his life. In the years 1940—1941, Rivera painted the actress’s portrait. He started it in Mexico and finished in America.
According to Paulette’s will, the painting was donated to an educational institution. In June 1999, it was sold at Christie’s auction in New York for $ 552,500.
Remarque died in 1970, aged 72, at his villa. After the writer’s death, Paulette occasionally sold items from her late husband’s collection. A large part of it was sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 1979: 29 paintings and drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Cézanne, Monet brought the widow $ 3,000,000. Two decades later, not only the collection was scattered, but Erich Maria Remarque was no longer remembered as an art collector.

Paulette Goddard outlived her husband by twenty years. She bequeathed $ 20,000,000 to New York University (NYU) for the development of educational and research programmes. To accomplish her will, in 1995, the university created the Remarque Institute. The main goal of its numerous projects is supporting and promoting the ties between Europe and America. This is what Remarque wished himself.
The writer’s villa in Porto Ronco, Switzerland. Photo from:

Remarque’s villa was bequeathed to the university, too. But the administration refused to pay the inheritance tax of 18,000,000 francs, so the villa was sold to private individuals. At present, the council of the canton of Ticino, Switzerland, is trying to raise money to buy the villa out and make it an international cultural centre.

Text by: Irina Olih
The main illustration: a fragment of the cover of the book Remarque’s Impressionists: Art Collecting and Art Dealing in Exile. In the article, material is used from the book by Thomas F. Schneider Networking the Arts: Erich Maria Remarque and Art. Cezanne’s Garden, and from the websites,,,