There is no doubt the painting is disturbing. It shows a young boy standing next to a girl doll with hollow eyes and a sad, downturned mouth. The doll is holding a strange device with wires coming out of it. The eeriest part of the painting are the many disembodied children’s hands reaching toward the boy through the glass panels of a door just behind him.
But even more disturbing than the painting itself are the stories of what has happened to people who come in contact with it.
It has an ordinary enough beginning. It was painted in 1972 by the artist , who was on a contract to produce two paintings a month for $200 each. In 1974, it was put on display at the Feingarten Gallery in Beverly Hills, California. It was reviewed by the art critic for the Los Angeles Times, Henry Seldis, and purchased by the actor , perhaps best known for waking up next to that horse’s head in The Godfather.
But then the story gets weird. A few years after the painting was sold, the art critic Henry Seldis, died. Then the gallery owner died. Then, in 1984, John Marley died. The painting disappeared, not surfacing again until 2000, in a bizarre posting on eBay. The new owners were trying to sell it because, they said, it was haunted.
They said the boy and the doll in the picture would fight with each other during the night, terrifying their four-year-old daughter. They set up a motion-sensing camera in the room for three nights and claimed they captured the boy in the picture leaving the frame and coming into the room, apparently fleeing in terror.
In what a skeptic might think was a marketing ploy, the owners warned buyers not to bid on the painting if they were “faint of heart,” or “unfamiliar with supernatural events.” More than 30,000 people visited the auction page. Many reported just looking at the painting made them feel ill or upset.
The painting ultimately sold for $1,025 to a buyer in Michigan, who is reportedly keeping it in storage and refusing much, much bigger offers to buy it.
Because of the internet sensation, Stoneham came forward with the strange story of what inspired him to paint such a haunting scene. The boy, he said, was himself. It was modeled on a photograph taken when he was five. The title comes from a poem written by his then-wife. It reads, in part, “The hands - resist him, like the secret of his birth.”
Stoneham was adopted. The children’s hands, he says, represent other lives; the glass door the barrier between worlds; and the doll his guide between those worlds.
Special thanks to author Darren Kyle O’Neill for the photograph of the painting. Buy his book, The Hands Resist Him: Be Careful What You Bid For, on Amazon.
All photos courtesy of Darren Kyle O'Neill