In “The Greek Interpreter,” Sherlock claims “Vernet, the French artist” as a relative–a grand-uncle, in fact. However, there are three Vernets who were known artists–Claude Joseph Vernet, his son Antoine Charles Horace Vernet, and his grandson Emile Jean-Horace Vernet. It’s unclear which one is Holmes’ grand-uncle.
However, looking at dates, we can make a pretty fair guess as to which Vernet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was thinking of when he threw out this allusion.
Here, we’re going to make three assumptions:
- The Vernet who is Holmes’ grand-uncle and his sister (Holmes’ grandmother) were relatively close in age. The sister was probably younger.
- Holmes’ grandfather would be about the same age as the Vernet we’re looking for.
- Holmes is in his late thirties or early forties during A Study in Scarlet, the first of Conan Doyle’s stories, which takes place in 1887. (There is probably something to either verify or reject this assumption somewhere in the canon, but I have never noticed it and can’t be bothered to go looking through well over a thousand pages of short stories for it.)
Emile Jean-Horace Vernet was born in 1789 and died in 1863. Assuming Holmes is in his forties during Study in Scarlet, that would put Holmes’ birth date at around 1850. Estimating generation gaps at about forty or fifty years, this Vernet is one or two decades older than Holmes’ father. (It is more likely, given the seven-year age gap between Sherlock and Mycroft, that it’s more like fifty years between Sherlock and his father.)
Moving backward, Antoine Charles Horace Vernet was born 1758, died 1836. Wikipedia states that this Vernet was the youngest of his siblings. His sister is probably the Holmes grandmother, albeit she’d have to have been in her forties (unusually late for a marriage) before Holmes’ father was born.
Their father, Claude Joseph Vernet, 1714-1789, was also an artist. With a great-grandfather, a grand-uncle, and a first cousin once removed all artists, it must have made for some interesting family reunions.
Quick disclaimer: I am by no means a Holmes scholar, and I am not a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, so I really know practically nothing at all on this topic. Feel free to set me straight.
I hope this has been an interesting read, it really has no bearing on anything I’m supposed to be working on right now. I just did it for fun.
Thanks for reading, and God Bless!