Iconic Sherlock Holmes

♦♦♦♦♦    Sherlock Holmes had a definitive look for over 100 years—until the recent portrayals which are offbeat depictions of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories.

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Robert Downey Jr. plays a campy, action-oriented version of Holmes on screen.

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Sherlock Holmes by Jonny Lee Miller in CBS’s “Elementary” is a tattooed, recovering drug addict in modern day NYC.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC/PBS series Sherlock. A young Holmes in modern day London.

However, the definitive look of Sherlock Holmes typically known since the late 1800s is more like this:

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Sidney Edward Paget (4 October 1860 – 28 January 1908) was a British illustrator of the Victorian era.

This look for Sherlock Holmes comes partially from the author’s descriptions, but iconically it comes from the artist Sidney Paget. When Sherlock Holmes as a series first appeared in the Strand Magazine, it is believed that artist Walter Paget was commissioned for the job of illustrating the stories, however, the publishers accidentally wrote to the artist’s brother, Sidney Paget. The Strand grew in popularity and became a best-seller in the 1890s, and with it, Paget’s illustrations of Holmes became more elaborate.

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Paget illustration

Paget is credited for details associated with Sherlock Holmes that never appear in Doyle’s writing, such as the deerstalker cap and a cape.

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Paget illustration

Others note that Paget’s dark mood illustrations of the Holmes detective stories probably influenced the American detective movies and film noir.

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Paget illustration

Even today, many reprints of Holmes stories still feature illustrations by Paget. In total, he completed around 356 illustrations for Doyle’s literary character.

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Paget illustration

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Paget illustration

Even the stage versions of Holmes were influenced by Paget:

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Stage actor William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes

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Stage actor William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes

The curved pipe is actually attributed to actor William Gillette, although Holmes does smoke pipes in the stories, and Paget has illustrated him smoking pipes.

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Paget illustration

And certainly, the film versions borrowed from the Paget image of Holmes:

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The most celebrated depiction of Sherlock Holmes is the 1980s-1990s Granada TV series starring actor Jeremy Brett which comes closest to the mood, storytelling, and the iconic look of the famous detective.

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Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

A comparison of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes next to Paget’s illustrations:

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Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and a Paget drawing of Sherlock Holmes.

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Paget illustration

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A shot from Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada TV series

It should be mentioned that even the offbeat versions of Holmes (mentioned at the beginning of this page) pay homage to iconic scenes and images by Doyle and Paget … they’re not mentioned here so as not to spoil anyone’s viewing (a.k.a. spoilers).

A lot of people around the world have an image of Sherlock Holmes, and Sidney Paget deserves some recognition for his role in creating the iconic detective.

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“Statue of Sherlock Holmes on Picardy Place in Edinburgh, Conan Doyle’s birthplace. The statue shows Holmes wearing an Inverness cape and a deerstalker cap” (wikipedia)

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3 thoughts on “Iconic Sherlock Holmes

    • My favorite Sherlock Holmes is the Granada TV series. I didn’t watch it for a long time because I thought it looked old, boring, and slow. But one day I checked it out on Netflix, and I was so happy with the actor (Jeremy Brett) and the way the show captured the short stories so well. The later seasons sort of lose the vitality of the first few seasons — and Jeremy Brett was also sick by the later ones, but I can never fault him for anything. I guess the directors decided to do different explorations of Holmes later on. I read the entire Sherlock Holmes short stories and novellas, so that Granada TV series comes closest to bringing the character to life on (TV) screen. I DO like the latest BBC/PBS version with Benedict Cumberbatch, but it’s not so purist — it’s an interpretation and a re-telling. The Guy Ritchie movies have nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes in my opinion — but I see them as “fun.”

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