The Library of Dr. Rodney P. Swantko

The Library of Dr. Rodney P. Swantko

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 10. [Doyle, Arthur Ignatius Conan, Sir] |  Sidney Paget's original illustration of "The Death of Sherlock Holmes".

[Doyle, Arthur Ignatius Conan, Sir] | Sidney Paget's original illustration of "The Death of Sherlock Holmes"

Auction Closed

June 26, 02:59 PM GMT


250,000 - 350,000 USD

Lot Details


[Doyle, Arthur Ignatius Conan, Sir] — Sidney Paget

Original illustration of "The Death of Sherlock Holmes," 1893

Original pen and ink and wash drawing heightened with white of The Death of Sherlock Holmes (269 x 186 mm), an illustration for the story "The Adventure of the Final Problem," signed and dated lower left "Sidney Paget | 1893," the drawing done on two sections of paper (the lower portion 95 mm height), mounted on board, with a clear but close, even horizontal separation between them, the lower margin evidently bearing a sizing instruction, "5 inche." Matted, framed, and glazed.

An iconic literary image: Sherlock and Holmes and Professor James Moriarty in mortal combat at the Reichenbach Falls. "The path has been cut half-way round the fall to afford a complete view, but it ends abruptly, and the traveller has to return as he came. … An examination by experts leaves little doubt that a personal contest between the two men ended, as it could hardly fail to end in such a situation, in their reeling over, locked in each other's arms" ("The Final Problem").

Sidney Edward Paget (1860–1908) was not the first illustrator to try his hand at picturing Sherlock Holmes. He had four predecessors, including the author's father Charles Doyle. But from the publication of "The Adventure of a Scandal in Bohemia" in the July 1891 issue of the Strand Magazine, the first Holmes story to appear there, Paget's depiction of the detective became the accepted authentic representation and his name has become indelibly associated with that of Sherlock Holmes. Of the 356 illustrations for the Sherlockian canon that Paget drew between 1891 and 1904, this vivid illustration of the fatal struggle between Holmes and Moriarty—a Manichaean battle between good and evil, dark and light—may well be the most famous. (During this fourteen-year period, Paget also furnished 233 illustrations for Conan Doyle's non-detective fiction.)

One of nine Paget drawings for "The Final Problem," The Death of Sherlock Holmes was first published in the December 1893 issue of the Strand Magazine and was the first of his illustrations to appear as the frontispiece to an issue of that periodical. When Conan Doyle's second series of Holmes stories, eleven in number, were collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894), this drawing was again used as the frontispiece. "It would be impossible to overestimate the influence that this artist … exerted upon the hearts and mind of the countless thousands who based their conception then—as they still continue to do … on his interpretation of Holmes, Watson, and the golden time 'where it is always 1895'" (James Montgomery, A Study in Pictures, Philadelphia, 1954).

Conan Doyle "had threatened to kill Sherlock Holmes after the first six stories. He was determined to do so at the end of the second series. It was in the summer of 1893, when he was in Switzerland visiting the Findelen Glacier with Silas Hocking that the method came to him. … The author announced that he did not wish to be known only as the author of Sherlock Holmes. 'I shall kill him off at the end of the year.' Hocking remonstrated. But the author went on: 'If I don't … he'll kill me.' Hocking then suggested that Holmes might be brought out to Switzerland and dropped down a crevasse. … The author liked the idea but chose the Reichenbach Falls which, as Hocking commented, disposed of him quite as effectually, and with a somewhat better chance of bring him back to life again if he should be that way inclined" (R. L. Green & J. M. Gibson, A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle, pp. 76–77). A decade later, Conan Doyle, perhaps in a concession to public pressure, was so inclined to revive his most famous character in "The Adventure of the Empty House," which later assumed the lead position in the story collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Sidney Paget's spirited illustrations to the Holmes canon "capture for us so perfectly the magic mood of the immortal stories" (Montgomery). Only about thirty original Sherlockian illustrations by Paget survive, scattered across a variety of private and institutional collections; most derive from the estate of Adrian Conan Doyle (1910–1970) and entered the market in the mid-1970s through the offices of House of El Dieff (Lew David Feldman). Only one other Paget drawing of Holmes—Holmes Gave Me a Sketch of the Events from "The Adventure of Silver Blaze"—has appeared at auction since the nonpareil Death of Sherlock Holmes was sold two decades ago.


Sherlock Holmes: An Exhibition held at Abbey House, Baker Street, London, May–September 1951, no. 26 (lent by Adrian Conan Doyle); Newberry Library, Sherlock Holmes-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Symposium, 2011.


Adrian Conan Doyle — House of El Dieff — a private collector — Maurice F. Neville (Sotheby's New York, 16 November 2004, lot 505)