Wednesday, June 19, 2013

To paint or not to paint . . . times six.

The grand high chancellor of Indianapolis Sherlockians, Vince Wright, came up with a Facebook post yesterday that just keeps haunting me:

"Random thought - I am going to try and find six Napoleon busts (for obvious reasons) but I am thinking of finding them individually of the same piece. Some will be painted, some may not be, but they will all be the same one. Now, I skimmed the story in The Canon. I don't think it says anything about the smashed ones being painted. It seems logical that they were as they were adorning mantels and shelves in different people's houses. What say you? All unpainted, or a mix? (I say mix.)"

For all of my Sherlockian career, I have envisioned those busts from "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" as white marble works of art. Since Sherlock Holmes took place in Victorian times and was a class act, I always tend to think of Sherlockian props as classy antiques, hence the white marble bust image. I doubt I'm the only one.

But the key word for those busts of Napoleon that appear in the great Borgia pearl case is "plaster." While white to start with, plaster cast reproductions of sculptures have a great tendency to be painted. And the people of the Victorian era, as a whole, weren't any classier than the people of our era, as a whole. There is always somebody out there who likes the garish, brightly colored version of something, and I bet Napoleon busts were no different.

Searching the web for actual Victorian plaster busts yields all sorts of paint schemes: black, bronze, marble-ish white, and, yes, those painted in life-like colors with flesh-tone skin and colorful clothes. Considering that the plaster bust is not so far off from the action figure (any large comic book store these days has a selection of superhero busts), it's not hard to envision a collector of Napoleon-iana, as we find in the tale, having at least one full-color plaster bust.

Whatever the case, having found unpainted plaster busts of Napoleon on the web, it now seems like an interesting little project to get one and paint it in some style that means something to me. In Vince's comment thread, I suggested a Sherlockian project like those of some cities, where a common statue like a cow was painted a hundred different ways by locals and displayed all over. It seems to me that it would be a very cool thing to have six busts of Napoleon painted in personal styles by six different friends. (Of course, that means more shelf space used, which Sherlockians tend to be in short supply of!)

Could personally created Napoleon busts become the next mini-trend of the Canonically enthusiastic Sherlockian? Well, you never know.

But if it does, we're pointing at Vince when someone asks who the culprit was. Just wanted to document that here the Facebook feed rolls on, in case that post gets washed away with the FB tide.


  1. I love this. Count me in! I still think we should make some kind of connection with your idea and next year's Scintillation.

    1. Okay, how's this? Make it an art show -- invite people to bring their own hand-painted bust of Napoleon to display. Then have judges pick "Most Sherlockian," "Most Creative," "Best of Show," or whatever art shows do.

  2. Don't have a Napoleon bust, but I do have one of Holmes. Now I am tempted to paint him up. I do like bright and garish. Imagine what I could do with that hat!

  3. You may be interested to read this:

  4. In my decade and a half of being a Sherlockian I never thought of them in any other way but white either. I just assumed they were. But, my mother owned a ceramics shop when I was little, and we almost never had a piece in our (or most or my relative's) house(s) that weren't painted.
    It seems logical that since the busts were sent to different people of different levels of society that at least one would have a painted bust of The Little Emperor.
    I love the idea of the personlized busts. Let me know if I can be of any help.