“Marriage” and–which “artist Vernet”?

“The Marriage of Mary Russell” publishes today–yay!marriage of mary russell_sm

In “The Greek Interpreter,” Watson is startled when his flat-mate Sherlock Holmes pulls an unsuspected brother out of his conversational pocket:

It was after tea on a summer evening, and the conversation, which had roamed in a desultory, spasmodic fashion from golf clubs to the causes of the change in the obliquity of the ecliptic, came round at last to the question of atavism and hereditary aptitudes. The point under discussion was, how far any singular gift in an individual was due to his ancestry and how far to his own early training.

“In your own case,” said I, “from all that you have told me, it seems obvious that your faculty of observation and your peculiar facility for deduction are due to your own systematic training.”

“To some extent,” he answered, thoughtfully. “My ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class. But, none the less, my turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”

“But how do you know that it is hereditary?”

“Because my brother Mycroft possesses it in a larger degree than I do.”Mycroft Holmes

Later, in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Mary Russell encounters further evidence of this family history:

The small box Holmes put before me contained a simple, delicate brooch made of silver set with tiny pearls.

“Holmes, it’s beautiful”

“It belonged to my grandmother. Can you open it?”

…Inside was a miniature portrait of a young woman with light hair but a clear gaze I recognized immediately as that of Holmes.

“Her bother, the French artist Vernet, painted it on her eighteenth birthday,” said Holmes. “Her hair was a colour very similar to yours, even when she was old.”

1961.013-248x300The necklace, and the grandmother, are glimpsed again in “The Marriage of Mary Russell.”

Beside the door, gazing across the intervening pews at the altar, was the portrait of a woman: thin, grey-eyed, with a nose too aquiline for conventional beauty. Her force of personality dominated the silent room.

However, one question Conan Doyle himself failed to answer was, “Which artist Vernet?” There are three options, consisting of grandfather, father, and son:

Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) Married an English woman.

Carle (Antoine Charles Horace) Vernet 1758-1836.

Horace (Émile Jean-Horace) Vernet (1789-1863).

All were French painters, all did portraits, all had children, so the dates will have to decide matters. According to the Laurie R. King chronology, Sherlock Holmes was born in 1861. (Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes—other Sherlockians date his birth to 1851, but Conan Doyle never delivered judgment.) His mother would have been born in the vicinity of 1830-1840, and his grandmother some time between 1800 and 1820.

Although the Vernets seem to have remained vigorous into their seventies (Sherlock clearly inherited longevity along with the art in his blood, since we have yet to read his Times of London obituary: this can only mean he is still with us.) it would be unusual to continue producing children into their (and their wives’) later years. This would push the probability towards the youngest of the three artists Vernet, Horace.self-portrait-with-pipe-1835(1).jpg!Blog

A close examination of his self-portrait, comparing it with a description of the grandson, all but clinches the hypothesis. Could that portrait be anyone but Sherlock Holmes, in deep disguise?


The e-story “The Marriage of Mary Russell” is out today, from Kindle or Nook.marriage of mary russell_sm


  1. Deanne on March 15, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Just finished the Marriage of Mary Russell, lovely story, thank you .

  2. Celin on March 15, 2016 at 7:19 am

    So looking forward to reading the Marriage of Mary Russell! I saw the email that it had been delivered to my kindle at midnight but refused to allow myself to start it as I knew I would never sleep if I began reading. Now I have this special gift waiting for me.

  3. YvonneM on March 15, 2016 at 7:46 am

    Just received my copy of the Marriage of Mary Russell, via Kobo. Can’t wait to get home to read it!

  4. Diane Hendricksen on March 15, 2016 at 8:28 am

    I will read it as soon as I finish my book club book.

  5. C on March 15, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Lovely! And, after we get our infinity scarves, we can have shirts made up that say “Team 1861”! 😀

  6. Alice Wright on March 15, 2016 at 9:58 am

    I’m listening to the audio version at the moment. It is so wonderful, Laurie. Thank you for sharing The Marriage with all your readers.


  7. Helen Martin on March 15, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Ha! Enjoy all you Laurie King fans. I have not yet yielded to the siren call of electronic reading but this is the second favourite author to publish a special bit as an e-story. Nevertheless, still resisting.

  8. Anne on March 15, 2016 at 11:46 am

    I had some extremely worrying family news last night, and as I am away from home felt particularly helpless and distracted. It was a joy to have something as lovely as this arrive in the evening (I live in New Zealand, so got to read it while the rest of you were fast asleep) and be able to read it until I felt I could sleep. Thank you!

    • Laurie King on March 15, 2016 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks for this, Anne–I am happy to be classed as “escapist” when it’s escape from worry. Hope your news turns for the better.

      • Anne on March 15, 2016 at 7:23 pm

        Isn’t reading any good work of fiction – one that actually absorbs your attention – escaping? Was it CS Lewis or Chesterton who pointed out that escaping is not always (or even usually) a negative thing? If we are imprisoned, whether by our opportunities or limited view points or ignorance or even the confines of only living one life, escaping is only enriching! For me, no better news yet, but we hope.

  9. Christine Zarnsy on March 15, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Like you said, you nailed it! Beautiful story, full of surprises. Thank you Laurie R. King for another excellent book!

  10. Wendy Martin on March 15, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Home from work, downloaded Marriage, just finished it. Loved it. Another winner and so great to have an appetizer while waiting for Murder to arrive!

  11. Deborah on March 15, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    I am so spoiled getting to read “The Marriage of Mary Russell”, such a wonderful tale of some of my favorite characters. I rushed through it while my husband drove us three hours to visit his failing uncle. Now I will read it again at a more sober pace for further enjoyment. Thank you for this wonderful addition to Mary’s story.

  12. Mary Stueben on March 16, 2016 at 1:55 am

    I too took delight in the delicate interplay of characters, of emotion and rationality in the event of the wedding. But I confess your comments above have confused me on the portrait in the chapel. There is the miniature portrait in the brooch, which Holmes describes as his grandmother. When seeing the larger portrait in the chapel, Russell asks, “your mother?”, to which he responds in the positive. You say above, “the necklace and the grandmother are glimpsed again…” then quote your description of what Holmes has just agreed is a portrait of his mother. The mother is wearing the necklace which contains the miniature (given to Russell as her birthday gift), but the larger portrait in the chapel is of the mother, not the grandmother. Or am I terminally confused? (Presumably as mother and daughter — painted by husband and father — they had similar features. But….)
    Thanks again for an opportunity to be present for the marriage of two well-loved ‘friends’!

  13. Anne on March 16, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    Did Lord Peter slip in briefly there again?! (Just finished my second, more leisurely, read-through).

  14. Elizabeth Dodd on March 18, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Utterly charming and great fun! Exactly what I was hoping for in my latest Russell/Holmes read.
    Many thanks for such marvelous books.

  15. Kelley on March 18, 2016 at 11:16 am

    An excellent listen! I had high expectations, and The Marriage of Mary Russell exceeded them – what fun.

    Off the top of anyone’s head, are there any Holmes or Russell sites or sights of interest in Shropshire or Hereford?

  16. Emily Hornaday on March 23, 2016 at 7:33 am

    Dear Ms. King;

    I am thrilled that your client decided to leave you this marvelous manuscript, and that you decided to publish it. It provided reality where there had only been rank speculation about a much mused upon subject by Miss Russell’s avid fans. It also added a surprising depth and richness to the true character of Miss Russell and her legendary husband, and the nature of their union. Frankly, I am surprised that Miss Russell agreed to write it and turn it over to you for publication. I rather imagine that as a savvy literary agent, you knew the intrinsic interest there would be regarding this glaringly overlooked topic, and exerted respectful and subtle pressure on Miss Russell to make it public. Bravo!

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