Doyle’s father, Sherlock’s first portrait artist, seized

A brief piece on Charles Altamont Doyle, father of the famous Sherlock Holmes author, from an article on artists and epilepsy just published in Practical Neurology.

Probably more famous as the father of Arthur Conan, Charles Altamont Doyle (1832–1893) was said to have epilepsy for the last 10–15 years of his life. The cause on his death certificate was epilepsy of ‘many years’ standing. He was not a particularly successful artist and perhaps is best remembered for his illustrations that accompanied the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet (1888). Charles was another depressive, but he chose to self-medicate heavily with alcohol. It is possible that his seizures, occurring late in life, were related to his consumption of alcohol and rapid withdrawal. He was committed to the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum in 1881, where finding peace at last, he created some of his best work. It is said that he persevered with his art in an attempt to show that he had been wrongfully imprisoned in the institution; ironically, the recurring themes that he used to plead for his sanity were elves, fairies and other fantastical characters [above]. It is said that he died during a prolonged seizure.

Charles Altmont Doyle is best known for the picture above, named ‘A Dance Around the Moon’, although my favourite is one from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London who have a self-portrait where he is surrounded by devils, demons and a levitating woman.

Rather than looking terrified or wallowing in self-pity, he just looks fed-up.

Link to PubMed entry for article on epilepsy and art.
Link to Charles Altmont Doyle self-portrait at the V&A.

One thought on “Doyle’s father, Sherlock’s first portrait artist, seized”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: