“The Remains of the Day”: Ismail Merchant’s Collection

By LIZ HAGER

Kishingar School, A Lady Entertaining Two Nobles, ca. 1800-1820
gouache (?) heightened with gold and silver on paper , 9 5/8 x 7½ in.
Price realized: $6,939.
(All photos courtesy Christie’s)

Born in Mumbai in 1936, Ismail Merchant was one half of the longest running partnership (both business and romantic) in independent film history. Established in 1961, the collaboration that was Merchant Ivory lasted over 40 years and produced scores of films.

Suzani, Shakrhrizabz Region (Uzbekistan), 68 x 96 in., mid-19th c.
Price realized: $16,851.

South Indian printed Palampore, 127 1/4 in. x 87 1/4 in
Price realized: $31,721.

The pair was best known for their rich and faithful film adaptations of literary works both past and contemporary—James’ The Europeans and The Bostonians; E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End; Diane Johnston’s Le Divorce; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s (their writing partner) Heat and Dust; and of course Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day with its all-star cast. In this world, Ismail Merchant’s particular talent was his ability to produce lush-looking period pieces on distincly non-Hollywood budgets.

Amli Shawl of Red Pashmina, Kashmir, mid-19th century.
Price realized: $1,983.

Merchant’s other passion was expressed in obsessive collecting. His film production work him unique access to galleries and dealers around the world and he took full advantage of the privilege, amassing a large collection of Indian textiles (some Central Asian) and miniatures, as well as European furniture, Indian silver, and European paintings of India.  His two worlds were seamless—often pieces from his collection showed up on the sets of his movies.

Ivory Silk Tent Panel (Kanat), India (probably Gujurat), late 18th c.
Price realized: $5,155.

James Ivory held onto the collection after Merchant’s death in 2005, as some of the pieces had sentimental value. But many did not, and he finally commissioned Christie’s to auction off 300 pieces. The results of the auction, held this past Wednesday, were exceptional, fetching over £6 million.

A Fraser Album Artist, Elephant and Driver, 1815-1819, pencil & watercolor.
Price Realized: $55,722.

Wider Connections

Christie’s: The Ismail Merchant Collection
Merchant Ivory Productions

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4 Responses to ““The Remains of the Day”: Ismail Merchant’s Collection”

  1. I would so love that tent panel. In another life. I miss them.

    Thanks Liz, Sharon

    • Dear Sharon, if you are ever in London, Brussels or India do let me know and you would be welcome to enjoy the panel up close in real.

      • Serge
        Would your invitation to Sharon include the rest of the Venetian Red family? Textiles are a particular interest of ours and we do travel. London and Brussels distinct possibilities, but we wonder where in India you are, because that would be a wonderful trip!

  2. thank you for that info – i was wondering what prices pieces would fetch at auction – now I know.

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