Simanaitis Says

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SHERLOCK HOLMES is remembered for his cold unassailable logic. However, the world’s greatest consulting detective also had an artistic side. Indeed, name another shamus who played his own Stradivarius. What follows here is a two-part examination of Holmes and the arts, as documented by his chronicler Dr. John H. Watson.

Holmes and his violin. Illustration by Sidney Paget.

In the early chronicling of “Sherlock Holmes — his limits,” Watson includes “Plays the violin well.” By contrast, in this same listing, Holmes’ knowledge of literature, philosophy, and astronomy are all rated “Nil;” his knowledge of politics, “Feeble;” and of sensational literature, “Immense.”

Chacun à son goût.

In fact, Holmes’ tastes in the arts were well founded, often expressed in the Sacred Canon, and neatly cataloged in Michael Hardwick’s classic book, The Complete Guide to Sherlock Holmes.

The Complete Guide to Sherlock Holmes, by Michael Hardwick, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1986.

Hardwick’s book includes a most helpful 10-page “Index of Quotations,” everything from “Abbey Grange, Kent, ABBE, 141” to “Zoo, CHAS, 134,” with a key code to chronicling titles. Thus, my research was, to coin a phrase, elementary, my dear reader.

In fact, as we’ll see tomorrow in Part 2, in good mystery tradition, Hardwick even provides a red herring.

Horace Vernet. In “The Greek Interpreter,” Holmes tells Watson of his artistic roots, “… my turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was a sister of Vernet, the French artist.”

Horace Vernet, 1789-1863, French painter of military scenes, portraits and Orientalist themes.

Actually, Sherlockian scholars have a multiplicity of Vernet artists from which to choose: Claude-Joseph, 1714–1789; his son Antoine Charles Horace, aka Carle, 1758–1836; and grandson Horace, 1789–1863.

My money is on Horace, for chronology as well as attitude: When asked to remove an obnoxious general from one of his paintings, Horace Vernet replied, “I am a painter of history, sire, and I will not violate the truth.”

As Holmes himself noted, “Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”

Roland de Lassus. In “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” Watson reports that Holmes “lost himself in a monograph which he had undertaken upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus.” As a measure of Holmes’ artistic appreciation in this regard, motets were long considered, “not to be celebrated in the presence of common people.”

Roland de Lassus, 1532–1594, Flemish composer, one of the most influential musicians of his time.

And, if anything can be said of Sherlock Holmes, it’s that he was uncommon. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss other Holmesian artistic encounters—and that red herring. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

One comment on “HOLMES AND THE ARTS PART 1

  1. VTK
    October 28, 2017

    Interesting coincidence that Michael Hardwick wrote a complete guide to Holmes and Edward Hardwicke played Watson alongside Jeremy Brett’s famous Holmes.

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