Sidney Edward Paget (4 October, 1860 - 28 January, 1908) was a British illustrator of the Victorian era who did a great deal of work for The Strand Magazine.
Today, Sidney Paget is best known as the creator of the popular image of Sherlock Holmes. He was inadvertently hired to illustrate The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series of twelve short stories that ran from July 1891 through December 1892, when the publishers accidentally sent him the letter of commission rather than his younger brother, Walter Paget.
It is a commonly held belief that Paget subsequently based Holmes' appearance on that of Walter. However, according to the 1912 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "The assertion that the artist's brother Walter, or any other person, served as model for the portrait of Sherlock Holmes is incorrect." Henry Marriott (H.M.) Paget, brother and close friend of Sidney Paget, is cited as the source of private information.
In 1893, Paget illustrated The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, published in The Strand as further episodes of the Adventures. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle revived the Sherlock Holmes series with The Hound of the Baskervilles, serialized in The Strand in 1901-02, he specifically requested that Paget be the illustrator. Paget went on to illustrate another short story series, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, in 1903-04. In all, he illustrated one Holmes novel and 37 Holmes short stories. His illustrations have influenced every interpretation of the great detective in fiction, film and drama.
The Strand became one of Great Britain's most prestigious fiction magazines. The Holmes series quickly became its most popular feature. It was not at all unusual for issues with Sherlock Holmes stories to sell out at news-stands.
As Holmes's popularity grew, the illustrations became larger and more elaborate. Beginning with The Adventure of the Final Problem in 1893, almost every Holmes story in the The Strand featured a full-page illustration as well as many smaller pictures within the text. The illustrations also gained a darker tone as Paget used the black-and-white medium to reflect the grim mood of the stories. The deep, shadowy look of Paget's illustrations probably influenced American detective movies and film noir. They have certainly influenced every film version of the Holmes stories.
Paget is also credited with giving the first deerstalker cap and Inverness cape to Holmes, details that were never mentioned in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing. The cap and coat first appear in an illustration for The Boscombe Valley Mystery in 1891 and reappear in The Adventure of Silver Blaze in 1893. They also appear in a few illustrations from The Return of Sherlock Holmes. (The curved pipe was added by the stage actor William Gillette.)
All together, Sidney Paget did some 356 published drawings for the Sherlock Holmes series. After his death in 1908, other illustrators imitated Paget's style when drawing Sherlock Holmes. The Paget illustrations have been reprinted in many Holmes anthologies. Paget did for Sherlock Holmes what John Tenniel did for Lewis Carroll's Alice stories: he defined the look of a truly great and original fictional character.
A complete set of Strand issues featuring the illustrated Sherlock Holmes tales is one of the rarest and most expensive collector's items in publishing history. Paget's original 10.5 x 6.75 inch drawing of Holmes and Moriarty in Mortal Combat at the Edge of the Reichenbach Falls was sold by Sotheby's in New York on 16 November, 2004 for $220,800.
Appearances in Holmes adaptations
Paget is alluded to in the 2015 Christmas special of Sherlock, where he is the illustrator for Watson's Holmes stories in The Strand. Mrs Hudson criticizes his characteristically dark style for making 221B Baker Street look dingy, and Watson responds that the illustrator's "out of control", complaining that he had to grow a mustache just so people could recognize him from Paget's illustrations.