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The Wax Bust of Sherlock Holmes


In the sixty reminiscences of Dr. Watson better known as the Sherlock Holmes stories, there are two references to a wax bust made in the likeness of Sherlock Holmes by a French sculptor. The first reference is in the Return of Sherlock Holmes.

Meuniers bust of Sherlock Holmes

The credit of the execution is due to Monsieur Oscar Meunier, of Grenoble, who spent some days in doing the moulding. It is a bust in wax. " The second reference is in the Mazarin Stone. Sherlock Holmes tells his assassin that the wax effigy was made by Tavernier, the French modelier. These names however, are either pseudonyms or the individuals were so obscure that history passed them by with no other reference. It seems odd that Sherlock Holmes would have two life-sized busts made in his image by two different sculptors. Both busts were said to be the identical image of Holmes.

A modelier is a sculptor who models his sculpture in clay. He then makes a plaster mold and makes a wax casting. This is part of the lost wax process still used today in the creation of bronze sculpture. The wax casting is hollow and is then carved to approximate the appearance of the final bronze.

Grenoble is an ancient town in southern France in the alps halfway between Lyon and Torino.





                                    Pictures of Grenoble

There are many metal mines in the vicinity of Grenoble and a lot of metallurgy including  bronze manufacture which would be convenient to sculptors. Unfortunately, all of the French sculptors in the 1890's seem to be located in Paris.

After almost of a century of the neo-classical influence in French sculpture started by Napoleon Bonaparte, there was a return to realism in the 1880's. Much of the credit for this has been given to Rodin. Auguste Rodin is generally recognized as the most important sculptor of the nineteenth century. Born to a family of modest means in 1840 and slow to gain recognition, Rodin nonetheless won five of France’s largest commissions for monuments during the 1880s and 1890s. During these decades he produced grand public works and a vast oeuvre of drawings and small sculptures. By 1890 Rodin had become the most renowned sculptor in France; by 1900 he had achieved international recognition. His innovations in form and subject matter established his reputation as the first master of modern sculpture. 
Rodin’s fame and productivity have been matched by only one artist in the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso.
 Rejected by the state-sponsored art school, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Rodin was one of the few self-taught French sculptors of the nineteenth century. He moved from novice to sculptor’s assistant (praticien) without benefit of prolonged academic training. Rodin learned about techniques on the job and about style by studying in the galleries of the Louvre. 
Devoted to Greek and Roman art, he also studied the masters of the French Renaissance, Germain Pilon (1528-1590) and Pierre Puget (1620-1694). Not averse to learning from more contemporary masters, Rodin looked for guidance to François Rude (1769-1815), James Pradier (1792-1852), and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875).
 Rodin’s career can be divided into four phases: training and apprenticeship (1854-76), maturity (1877-89), zenith (1890-1901), and final years (1902-17). He had a superb, unmatched gift for modeling clay and plaster. During his career, Rodin pulled hundreds of molds from his clay models. He then made plaster casts from these molds, casts that he would sometimes modify. The majority of Rodin’s innovations and refinements involved plaster, the medium he favored not only for experiments and improvements of a work but for first exhibitions in the Paris Salons and gifts to friends and patrons. His involvement in casting his works in bronze was limited to his choice of mold makers, foundries, and patinators, whose work he supervised with exacting care. Perhaps because in his early years he had been required to carve stone for other artists, once successful, Rodin limited his work in marble to shaping key details and adjusting final finishes.

In the 1880's there were other sculptor's as well who excelled at realism in their work. This realistic style emerged pari passu with a new social awareness of the common man. Two sculptors Jules Dalou and Constantin Meunier exemplify this movement.

Born in 1838 to a glovemaker in Paris, Aimé-Jules Dalou attracted the attention of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who directed him to the Petite Ecole in 1852 for his first artistic training. Carpeaux then presented him at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in March 1853 (until the late 1990s thought to occur the following year), where Dalou studied painting with Abel de Pujol (1785-1861) and sculpture with Carpeaux's own Ecole master, Duret, for three years. Though he officially acknowledged all three artists as teachers, Dalou always considered Carpeaux his real master.  Dalou pursued the artistic values of the Petite Ecole in a multi-faceted career that blossomed after a decade of obscurity. He went with his family to London, where he lived until 1880. Dalou helped to usher in a new approach to the medium, there termed "The New Sculpture," that closely allied sculpture and architecture, and gave high priority to both traditional craft and the new industrial idiom. He also gained favor as a portraitist and sculptor of genre subjects. Dalou is one of the handful of leading French sculptors of the late nineteenth century, ranking with Chapu and Mercié in reputation. Where his colleagues' work has great consistency of subject and style, Dalou's has extraordinary range, absorbing a wide array of painterly and sculptural sources throughout his career. Dalou's vigorous plasticity, stylistic eclecticism, and modern figure types give exceptional life to his forms regardless of mode and scale. His expressive moods, subject matter, and sculptural format vary considerably even in his late career. Dalou steadily aimed to benefit a broad-ranging public, to provide a public art that celebrated democratic virtues, both private and public, and to dignify labor and métier. The latter concern informs all aspects of his work.

In several media, Constantin Meunier constantly sought to express the soul of modernity through his art. creating both traditional religious works and pieces with more modernist subject matter, he focused on the rural peasantry and urban poor. His brother, an engraver, influenced Meunier's choice of an artistic career. Entering the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1845 as a student of sculpture, he soon turned to painting, the medium in which he had his first public success. In association with other realistic avant-garde artists in Brussels, Meunier formed the Socièté Libre des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1868. Travels within Belgium influenced his choice of subjects. A visit to a Trappist monastery near Antwerp inspired his religious focus. Trips to the rolling mills, glassworks, and industrial factories in Wallonia in the 1870s stimulated his concern for the working class. When Meunier again turned to sculpture in the 1880s, he was becoming internationally recognized, with shows in Paris and Vienna, Dresden, and Berlin. His studio home in Ixelles now houses the Constantin Meunier Museum.

The name Meunier in French Means Miller. Although there are no sculptors named Meunier in Grenoble, there is a distillery named Meunier at that location and there is a literary reference  as well a book by Stirling entitled The Meunier of Grenoble 1854. The name Tavernier means tavern keeper.

There was probably only one bust of Holmes made by Constantin Meunier at his studio in Ixelles, Belgium.


John A. Lanzalotti is a sculptor and a doctor, and a Sherlockian who does
not neglect Sherlock Holmes at his web-site <>;
click on "Sherlock Holmes and Sculpture" to see John's research on Devine's
bust of Napoleon, and the busts of Holmes by Meunier and Tavernier.


C7441. Lanzalotti, John A. "Saxe-Coburg Square," BSJ, 41, No. 4 (December 1991), 207-211.

The definitive location of Saxe-Coburg Square is identified as Cross Key Square on the west side of lower Aldersgate Street at Little Britain. This identification is derived from an application of Holmes's methods in an analysis of the story's clues. All of the clues fit this location. All previously proposed locations are systematically refuted in this analysis, and each location described in RedH is identified with its real counterpart.