Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Study in Ink - The Illustrators of Sherlock Holmes

A point which makes the original Sherlock Holmes stories quite unique are the original illustrations which accompanied the stories. Whether they were published in The Strand Magazine or Collier's Weekly, illustrators lent their talents to giving the public its first real look at Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Today, I want to peruse some of these illustrators who were quite influential in shaping Sherlock Holmes.

One of the earliest efforts of illustrating the Sherlock Holmes stories went badly. Arthur Conan Doyle's alcoholic father who was at this point confined to an insane asylum created a number of illustrations for Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet." These illustrations from Doyle are quite shocking to the modern viewer for all of the characters appear quite decrepit and ill. Worst of all, these illustrations feature a Sherlock Holmes with a strange bushy beard!

Sherlock Holmes delivers a knock-out blow
in this illustration from "The Solitary Cyclist" by Sidney Paget
By far the most famous artist who illustrated the original Sherlock Holmes stories was Sidney Paget. Paget (1860-1908) illustrated three sets of short stories and one novel for the Strand Magazine. Interestingly, the art editor of the magazine actually wanted Sidney's brother, Walter Paget (also an artist) to do the illustrations for the stories, but the commission went to Sidney in error. However, in the end, Walter Paget did end up connected with Sherlock Holmes in more way than one. Sidney Paget used his younger brother as the model for Holmes. Later, in 1913, Walter Paget did end up illustrating "The Adventure of the Dying Detective."

Sidney Paget is today credited for giving the detective two of his most famous attributes - the deerstalker hat and Inverness cape. In Arthur Conan Doyle's original writing, the hat which Sherlock Holmes wears in the country is never explicitly called a deerstalker - being referred to merely as "an ear-flapped travelling cap." Paget, who was a fan of the deerstalker and wore the hat often, decided to depict the detective wearing such a hat. The rest is history...

"The Priory School" by Fredric Dorr Steele
While Sidney Paget is the most famous artist from Britain to have illustrated the stories, an equally famous artist in the United States was creating fantastic illustrations for the magazine, Collier's Weekly. Fredric Dorr Steele (1874-1944) created a number of fantastic character studies for the magazine. Steele's illustrations are quite obviously based on the countenance of the American actor, William Gillette who brought the role of Holmes to the stage in his original four-act play which debuted in 1899.

Aside from the two most famous artists to illustrate the Sherlock Holmes stories, there have been many other illustrators who have taken up their art supplies to transfer the great detective's likeness onto paper. Richard Gutschmidt and Josef Fredrich were both European artists whose illustrations were featured in German and Czech translations.

Some of the most recent illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories are quite well-done. Artist Nis Jessen illustrated a striking and beautifully done version of "A Study in Scarlet." In addition, artist I.N.J Culbard and Ian Edington have collaborated to transform all four of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels into wonderfully crafted graphic novels. We can only hope that we can see more from these illustrators in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Sidney Paget's drawings will always define Holmes for me. The very first Holmes stories I read were collected in THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, ending with HOW WATSON LEARNED THE TRICK and illustrated throughout with Paget's drawings. I have never been able to imagine anything else since.

    It's unfortunate that my Holmes omnibuses contain no drawings of any kind, but one day I will have a collection of the stories with Paget's drawings. Just not quite yet...


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