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Sherlock Holmes under the microscope

— July 2013

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Holmes and Watson. Courtesy Museum of London

Museum of London announces Sherlock Holmes exhibition in autumn 2014

‘Which is it today? Morphine or cocaine?’

‘It is cocaine. A seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?’

The subject of the Museum of London’s major exhibition for 2014 was described by his companion as ‘alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition’. The exhibition delves into the brain of one of the most famous Londoners of all time, Sherlock Holmes, and analyses the brilliant obsessive mind mapped onto the labyrinth of Victorian London. The detective has been re-imagined many times in film and TV shows, his clothing and piper familiar to millions. The architecture of Victorian London was the backdrop and environment of many of his investigations.

Holmes – ‘the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen’ – made his first appearance in late-Victorian London, when Britain was the dominant global power and London its imperial capital.  Arthur Conan Doyle’s compelling stories about the ‘consulting detective’ and his companion and chronicler John Watson were perfect for the new modern age. Reimagined for generation after generation ever since, Holmes and Watson continue to stalk London in pursuit of cases – enthralling today’s audiences as they did their first readers. The ‘Sherlock Holmes’ exhibition (working title) will ask who is Sherlock Holmes, and why does he endure? 

The museum will look beyond the familiar deerstalker, pipe and cape in search of the ‘real’, complex and multi-faceted Sherlock Holmes, mirroring the way he used his own remarkable observational powers and analytical mind to reveal the truth. The exhibition will also consider the relationship between Holmes and the city that is equally a backdrop, a character in the stories and a source of fascination for the fictional detective himself – for ‘it is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London’, remarks Holmes. 

Opening in autumn 2014, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ will build on the success of the museum’s recent ‘Dickens and London’ exhibition. This attracted almost 100,000 visitors and received rave reviews from visitors and the media alike. The exhibition will be curated by Alex Werner, who as well as being an expert on Victorian London, heads the Museum of London’s History team.

Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London, said:

We all think we know Sherlock Holmes, but do we really? The lens through which the Museum of London will examine the inimitable detective will reveal more about London than you might guess, but then you’d expect nothing less of the Museum of London.

‘Sherlock Holmes’ follows ‘The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels’ at the Museum of London, which opens this autumn.



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