This guest post comes from Karita Kuusisto, a PhD student at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University. Her research focuses on the work of the artist and illustrator Sidney Paget and the role of the illustrator in the process of making illustrated periodicals in the late Victorian era. Her research interests include illustration, periodical press and photography in the nineteenth century.
Karita is leading a special session at the 2016 Annual Conference of the British Association of Victorian Studies, where she will showcase the work of the artist and illustrator Sidney Paget (1860-1908), concentrating on his work for the Strand Magazine. The session also gives visitors a chance to examine original copies of the magazine housed in Special Collections and Archives, and explore how the changes in the publication process affected the appearance of the illustrations throughout the years.
Sidney Paget may not be a name that many people recognise, even if they recognise the literary character who he helped to create visually: Sherlock Holmes.
While there is much debate over which illustrator contributed most to the famous detective’s appearance, there can be no doubt that one of the most influential of them all was the rendition that Sidney Paget created for the pages of the Strand Magazine.
Created by George Newnes in 1891, the Strand Magazine is well known for having been a highly entertaining and lavishly illustrated monthly publication. Assigning Paget as the illustrator of the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories seems to have happened by (a lucky) mistake. According to Paget’s daughter Winifred Paget, the Strand Magazine’s Art Editor, W. H. J. Boot, had actually intended to hire Sidney Paget’s brother, Walter Paget, for the job. Boot, however, had forgotten Walter Paget’s first name and addressed his letter to “Mr. Paget”, and the letter was subsequently opened by Sidney.
Sidney Paget illustrated the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories from their first publication in the Strand Magazine in 1891 until the publication of ‘Final Problem’ in 1893, and resumed as the illustrator of the stories in 1901 for ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and 1903 for ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’.
During the time when ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories were not published, Paget went on to illustrate many other stories by Arthur Conan Doyle (and others) for the Strand. These included ‘Rodney Stone’, which was first published as a serialized novel in 1896 and later published as an illustrated novel, using Paget’s illustrations.
What do we know about Sidney Paget? According to an article published in the Strand Magazine in July 1895, Sidney Paget was ‘born on October 4th 1860, in London, fifth son of the late Robert Paget, vestry clerk of Clerkenwell’, and studied painting in Heatherley’s School of Art. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy at eighteen years of age, ‘and constantly since that time’. In his studio, Paget painted portraits and small pictures, while also illustrating books and illustrated papers, consisting of ‘chiefly war subjects of Egypt and the Soudan.’ According to the Royal Academy records, Paget became a student of the Academy on December 6 1881, at the age of 20, as a painter. At the time, training lasted for six years.
Paget, being a portrait painter, often included “portraits” of characters from the stories as illustrations. His skill as an illustrator lay in his ability to make the different characters easily recognizable for the reader, something too often lacking in Victorian era illustration.
Paget’s original black-and-white drawings are painterly in their style and use of shading, which does not always translate to the finished illustrations on the Strand Magazine’s pages. This is simply due to the printing process of the illustrations: after Paget had finished the original drawing, both engraver and printer would work on the image as well, leaving their mark on the work. The printing process also affected the amount of detail that could be included in the finished illustration, which Paget would have needed to take into account when producing the drawings.
There is a clear change in the style and the overall look of the finished ‘Sherlock Holmes’ illustrations in the Strand Magazine in the year 1892. According to Alex Werner, this change happened when Paul Naumann became the engraver of the ‘Holmes’ illustrations. It is possible that the Strand Magazine was not satisfied with the quality of the previous illustrations, and wished therefore to change engravers. As the Strand Magazine’s records have been lost, it is quite impossible to know exactly why the change happened. After the changing engravers, the compositions and topics of the illustrations also became more varied, resulting in a more enjoyable reading experience.
Newnes, George ‘Artists of the Strand Magazine’ in Strand Magazine 1895.2.
Paget, Winifred ‘The Artist Who Made Holmes Real’ in A Sherlock Holmes Compendium, ed. Peter Haining (London: W.H. Allen, 1980), pp. 41-45
Werner, Alex, ‘Sherlock Holmes, Sidney Paget and the Strand Magazine’ in Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, ed. Alex Werner (London: Ebury, 2014)