What do Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson look like? Everybody knows that!
They look just like Rathbone and Bruce. Or Cushing and Stock. Or Brett and Hardwicke. Or William Gillette and Whoever. (Or is it that Sherlock Holmes, as Orson Welles famously said, “looks just like William Gillette.”)
We each have our own idea of Holmes and Watson. I thought of this recently when I received a wonderful retirement gift of two plates representing the Great Detective and his equally great partner in crime-solving in their (or at least Watson’s) later years. Part of the Signature Collection, they were painted by the late Mitchell Hooks, best known for illustrating paperback novels and movie posters.
My own images of Holmes and Watson come largely from the Canonical text. I had read the stories before I saw any of the dramatic representations or even – to the best of my memory – the great Sidney Paget illustrations.
There are two set pieces in the Canon that describe the immortal duo. Watson portrays Holmes like this in the second chapter of A Study in Scarlet:
His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.
And Lestrade describes Watson in a marvelous passage near the end of “The Adventure of Charles August Milverton”:
“The first fellow was a bit too active, but the second was caught by the under-gardener and only got away after a struggle. He was a middle-sized, strongly-built man—square jaw, thick neck, moustache, a mask over his eyes.” “That’s rather vague,” said Sherlock Holmes. “Why, it might be a description of Watson!”
“It’s true,” said the inspector, with much amusement. “It might be a description of Watson.”
That’s what we know for sure about the appearance of Holmes and Watson. All else is a matter of interpretation.