The man who brought Holmes to 'life'
Paget 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.
Despite the commonly held belief that Paget based Holmes' appearance on that of Walter, his brother Henry Marriott (H.M.) Paget denied this was the case. "The assertion that the artist's brother Walter, or any other person, served as model for the portrait of Sherlock Holmes is incorrect."
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 the most prestigious fiction magazines, with the Holmes series its most popular feature.
As Holmes' popularity grew, Paget's 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 was a probable influence on American detective movies and film noir and have had a profound influence on 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 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, other illustrators found that they had to imitate Paget's style when drawing Sherlock Holmes. The Paget illustrations have been reprinted in many Holmes anthologies and have become iconic in depicting the 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.