The legend of Sherlock Holmes lives on. Hugely profitable films and series with Holmes as a central character are produced every year on both sides of the Atlantic which bear little semblance with the original character except the name of the great detective. Yet Sidney Paget, the artist who first visually interpreted the Sherlock Holmes stories, is largely forgotten.
Sidney Paget’s skills as an artist came to the fore when he was accidentally chosen to illustrate The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Strand Magazine. His brother Walter Paget was originally nominated for doing the illustrations for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. But a mix–up at the publisher’s end meant relatively inexperienced Sidney Paget get the opportunity of painting the story.
In the beginning Sydney Paget’s illustrations were comparatively simpler. They were created as uncomplicated visual cues for the readers. But with time and also with the increasing popularity of Sherlock Holmes as was evident from the soaring sales of Strand Magazine, his work started to become more and more elaborate. The deerstalker cap and Inverness cape so commonly associated with Sherlock Holmes were not planned by his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but were conceived and put down by Sydney Paget in his illustrations. With the absence of colour and its associated distractions, the shadowy tones became powerful instrument for this artist befitting the actual storyline. His art earned the admiration of Conan Doyle himself and post completion of the initial series the author insisted on Sidney Paget’s association with his work every time a Sherlock Holmes story is published.
Sidney Paget (October 4, 1860 – January, 28 1908) died of a painful medical condition as a result of Mediastinal tumour. But before that he created such a visual legacy for this sharp–witted detective that every illustrator and filmmaker re–creating the character feels inspired in following it to this day.