Arthur Conan Doyle News

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle portrait to make public debut at the Museum of London

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Sidney Paget

The world of the greatest fictional detective of all time will be illuminated at the Museum of London this autumn, in the Sherlock Holmes exhibition.

Highlights announced today include:

• A rare oil on canvas portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle painted by Sidney Paget in 1897, which has never been on public display in the UK
• Original pages from Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscript of The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) never before seen in the UK
• The original manuscript of The Adventure of the Empty House (1903)
• The iconic Belstaff coat and the Derek Rose camel dressing gown worn by Benedict Cumberbatch, from the Sherlock BBC television series

The exhibition will be the largest of its kind for over 60 years*, drawing on the museum’s fabulous Victorian and Edwardian collection and bringing together Sherlock Holmes material from across the globe, including several key world class loans.  The rarities will be on show in the city that inspired the stories and is – in all its fogs, populous streets, criminal underworld and celebrated landmarks – like another character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s prolific canon.

Visitors will re-trace the literary beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, from original manuscripts to the first copies of The Strand magazine in 1891, examining how the consulting detective has evolved from Conan Doyle’s early concepts. The American literary great, Edgar Allan Poe, was a formative influence on the Sherlock author, and the exhibition will include a rare loan of hand-written manuscript pages from The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), the seminal crime fiction story of its era, on loan from the Free Library of Philadelphia and in the UK for the first time. Joining this is Conan Doyle’s own manuscript of The Adventure of the Empty House (1903), the story which sees the return of Sherlock Holmes after his confrontation with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls (on loan from The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia).

Sherlock's iconic Belstaff coatSherlock's Derek Rose camel dressing gown

Original drawings by Sidney Paget, who illustrated the stories in The Strand magazine, will appear alongside a unique oil on canvas painting by the same artist, which is being displayed to the UK public for the first time. The painting, which is kindly on loan from the Conan Doyle Foundation and is currently undergoing conservation in Switzerland, conveys a compelling psychological portrait of the author at the height of his literary fame in 1897. Painted by his friend and illustrator, we are able to see close up the man who created Sherlock Holmes.

Alex Werner, Head of History Collections at the Museum of London and lead curator of Sherlock Holmes said: “Peeling back the layers of Sherlock Holmes, we will reveal the roots of this global icon who has continued to enthral audiences for over 125 years. It is fitting that it be hosted here, in the city which shaped the stories and created such a rich source for its success.”

The evolution of Holmes and his portrayal in popular culture will be considered from stage to screen, including the performances of William Gillette, Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. Each actor offers clues to why he has endured, reinvented for generation after generation – an underlying theme of the exhibition. Bringing the stories into the 21st century, costume from the recent television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch will go on display, including his famous Belstaff coat and the Derek Rose camel dressing gown, worn by Cumberbatch himself, on loan from Hartswood Films.

Paintings, drawings, illustrations and photographs will examine how Victorian London and the cultural climate of the day informed Conan Doyle’s stories and characters, interpreting renowned artists and photographers through the prism of Sherlock Holmes and identifying key locations. The stories and images reinforce each other to create the seminal views of Holmes’s London embedded in our cultural memory.

Painting highlights include Westminster Bridge, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey (1872) by John Anderson, The Regent Street Quadrant at Night (1897) by Francis Forster and the atmospheric prints of William Wyllie and Joseph Pennell (courtesy of the US Library of Congress). Each one offers an artistic insight into the London of Sherlock Holmes. A remarkable collection of 19th century photography will bring the city into even sharper perspective, depicting familiar scenes from the stories such as Piccadilly Circus in the work of George Washington Wilson and the evocative landscapes of London seen in Alvin Langdon Coburn’s photographs.

Through exploration of late 19th century London, the imperial capital and nexus of empire, the defining characteristics of Holmes will be placed under the microscope. This includes Holmes’s analytical mind, his forensic and scientific approach to solving crimes, his ability to go undercover as a master of disguise, and his characterisation as a Bohemian drug taker yet model English gentleman.
A vast collection of objects from the period when Conan Doyle was writing, including costume, will intertwine with the stories of Sherlock Holmes to provide a further understanding of these traits. The exhibition will explain where the ideas originally came from, and their real-world precedence, including the instantly recognisable symbols of the magnifying glass, pipe and deerstalker.

Sherlock Holmes opens at the Museum of London on Friday 17 October 2014 until Sunday 12 April 2015.

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