Throughout history, people have held a special fascination for haunted paintings. There is just something about certain artworks that naturally lend themselves to speculation of the supernatural. The eyes that seem to follow you or the inexplicable feeling that the subject could jump out at any minute and claim you as their next victim.
“The Hands Resist Him” is a painting that has garnered much attention for allegedly being haunted. One look at the 36″ x 24″ oil on canvas, and it is easy to see why. A young boy stands next to a life-size, hollow-eyed doll while mysterious hands press against the glass panels of the doors behind them. The imagery is designed to suggest otherworldly connections, but many believe that there is more to it. The painting has a disturbing history, one that was modernized by the media and the use of the popular selling platform eBay. Here are 10 facts about this disturbing painting, so you can decide for yourself: haunted is it or an urban legend?
10 The Artist
“The Hands Resist Him” was painted by William Stoneham. In 1972, Stoneham’s work was contracted by Charles Feingarten Galleries for two years. Afterward, Stoneham made his debut at a one-man show in 1974. Henry Seldis, an art critic for The Los Angeles Times, wrote, “William Stoneham’s paintings are at their best when at their weirdest. In those instances, the young artist comes close to inventing the first truly neo-surrealist painting I have encountered to date that extends the surrealist fantasies into the contemporary realm. The best works here deserve the attention of collectors devoted to traditional surrealism without objecting to a good many new and startling twists.” Only one of Stoneham’s paintings sold in the show: “The Hands Resist Him.” The sale marked the beginning of the painting’s chilling story.
Stoneham put his art career on hold in 1984 to work in the film and computer game industries, securing work with Christoper Walas, ILM (Industrial Light & Magic), and then, in 1992, LucasArts Entertainment. But he eventually returned to his art. His “newest work is an exploration of figurative and textural concepts influenced by the urban environment and the social/political forces at work in our world.” Using various mediums in his art, he evokes a sense of despair and fright. Stoneham’s art can be viewed on Fine Art America and his website, Stoneham Studios.
9 The Inspiration
The inspiration for “The Hands Resist Him” came from an old photograph and a poem. The photograph was one of Stoneham at the age of five when he and his adoptive family stayed at his grandmother’s tiny Chicago apartment. Stoneham used the photo as a reference for the boy in the painting. In addition, a poem, written in 1971 by Stoneham’s first wife, Rhoann Ponseti, served as inspiration for the painting’s title.
Stoneham also credits his long-held connection to Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious as a source of inspiration. The theory states that humans are born with a collection of knowledge inherited from “the past collective experience of humanity,” which leads them to hold “a number of deep-seated beliefs and instincts, such as spirituality, sexual behavior, and life and death instincts.”. But they can only access it in times of crisis and dreams. In Stoneham’s own words: “the hands are ‘the other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm.”
8 The Auction
“The Hands Resist Him” was listed on eBay in February 2000. The listing, titled “Haunted Painting,” caused a sensation. In mere hours, the painting’s story and link were shared all over the internet. The eBay listing racked up more than 30,000 views before its sale.
Beginning with a grim warning, the listing detailed the supernatural occurrences that had plagued them since bringing the painting into their home. The sellers also included pictures as proof of their claims. Their efforts paid off when “the bidding price of the painting shot up—from the first bid of $199 to a final price of $1050 in just 30 days.” A transcript of the listing can be found on BBC (follow the link at the bottom of the article “See more pictures and read the ad >>>”).
The auction marked a new nickname for the painting: “eBay’s haunted painting.” An excerpt from the listing reads:
“When we received this painting, we thought it was really good art…At the time we wondered a little why a seemingly perfectly fine painting would be discarded like that (today we don’t!). One morning our four and a half year-old daughter claimed that the children in the picture were fighting and coming into the room during the night.”
7 The Media
“The Hands Resist Him” has become an “internet legend.” Not only does the painting have its own page on Facebook, Wikipedia, and Stoneham Studios, it’s also been the subject of online articles, podcasts, and discussion forums. The media latched onto the haunted aspect of the painting and further spurred interest in the artwork—and the urban legend. The first article, “The eBay Haunted Painting,” was published on BBC in July 2002. Three more followed: The Daily Dot on October 31, 2013, The Line-Up in June 2018, and STSW Media in March 2019.
The painting was mentioned in a movie review on CNN in February 2019, then on the Crawlspace podcast in December 2019, and the Empty Frames podcast in February 2020. Additionally, “followers of 4chan’s paranormal portal /x/, Reddit’s r/creepy, Encyclopedia Dramatica’s creepypasta wiki, and other corners of the web devoted to the unsettling and unexplainable truly believe that the painting is haunted.” The painting has even inspired a round of memes.
6 The Book
In May 2016, Darren Kyle (D.K.) O’Neil published “a dramatized account of the notoriously haunted artwork” called The Hands Resist Him: Be Careful What you Bid For. O’Neil’s book introduces a young fictional family as the winning bidders as well as a detective who finds a connection between the haunted painting and his investigation into a 28-year-old open case of a serial killer known as “The Life Swapper.” The book is available on Amazon and currently has a four-star rating. There is a film adaption of O’Neil’s book in the works.
O’Neil also had a supernatural experience with the painting:
“I first saw it online when I was living in Dubai. I printed it out and left it on a side table next to some other documents printed on the same printer with the same paper. Anyway, I went to Italy for a month. When I came back, the air conditioning had gone awry, everything was green mold. The TV, bed sheets, my daughter’s cot and clothing, all of my suits in the closet, and the documents I had printed all green. But right next to them, the only thing that was perfectly untouched was the printout of the painting.”
5 The Reactions
Many people experienced unexplained physical sensations after viewing the haunted painting. One eBay buyer claimed that “he fainted at the sight of the painting” while another “said she felt like her throat was being tightened by an external grip.” A buyer said that his monitor went white and emitted a blast of heat as soon as he looked at the painting. He also started crying for no reason. Someone heard an Exorcist-type voice, and another reported a “new Epson printer that ate and mutilated page after page when the user tried to download images of the painting.”
Viewers also mentioned difficulty breathing, becoming ill, or general discomfort, while some parents said their children grew unruly and started to scream at the sight of the painting. Jupiknight wrote on Reddit on August 23, “I still refuse to look at/study this picture more than like, 5 seconds…It creeps me the f––k out.” In reply, snoos_my_dog added, “I actually purchased a print of this painting from his website. I put it on display in my living room and man, that thing made everyone who saw it uncomfortable…People actually would stop coming over because of it. I ended up taking it down due to popular demand.”
4 The Gun
A major selling point in the eBay auction was the seller’s description of events. As the story goes, the sellers kept the painting in their 4½-year-old daughter’s bedroom. One morning, the girl claimed that the subjects of the painting “did not let her sleep at night.” Her parents set up a motion sensor camera and captured some truly terrifying supernatural activity.
The photographs showed the boy crawling from the painting “as if he’d been threatened by the doll.” In others, the doll’s face appears to be angry, and she is holding a gun in her hand “instead of the dry cell which was painted in the original.”
3 The Deaths
“The Hands Resist Him” is said to be responsible for the deaths of three men who were close to the painting at the time of its first sale. The first was Henry Seldis in 1978, the art critic who wrote a review of Stoneham’s work at his debut art show in 1974. According to authorities at the time, they believed Seldis committed suicide after being found dead in his apartment. The next was Charles Feingarten, the man who contracted Stoneham’s work and whose gallery served as the location of the art show; Feingarten passed in 1981. Lastly, the first owner was actor John Marley who died in 1984 after having open-heart surgery, though he sold the painting before his death. Marley was best known for his part in the movie, The Godfather—he’s the one who wakes up in bed with the horse’s head.
After the deaths of these three men, the painting disappeared until it was found by the same family who would later sell it on eBay. When told of this 26 years later, Stoneham brushed it off as a coincidence. Though Stoneham has said of the painting, we “live in an age of science of revelation and hard realities and hard facts, but we are still drawn to the mysterious…And what is more mysterious than paintings? More than any other object, paintings are a one-of-a-kind thing created by someone using their hands.”
2 The Current Location
The winning bidder of “eBay’s haunted painting” was gallery owner Kim Smith. The painting presently resides in the back room of Smith’s Perception Fine Art Gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Its current resting place is the result of a request from Smith’s sons, who didn’t “want to keep ‘the most haunted painting in the world’ in their family home.”
Smith has only publically shown the haunted painting six times. Though he has yet to experience anything supernatural, he has received many prayers “and quotes from the scriptures from a man of faith. Advice as to how to cleanse my residence of this evil thing from a Native American Shaman in Mississippi,” as well as reports “of people being repulsed, made physically ill, or suffering from blackout/ mind control experiences.” Smith has no plans to sell the painting, despite receiving a low six-figure offer recently. “‘Nothing has ever been to the point where I would consider serious,’ he said. ‘It’s kind of got its own mystique that’s growing here.’”
1 The Sequels (and Prequel)
“The Hands Resist Him” has three sequels and a prequel. The first two sequels were commissioned by a private collector. “Resistance at the Threshold,” 2004, depicts the boy and the doll after many years have passed. They are standing at the glass door, but the boy has become an old man, and the doll has become, well, something else. The second sequel, “Threshold of Revelation,” 2012, continues the progression of the old man and doll, this time in a new location.
The prequel and final sequel were painted more recently. “The Hands Invent Him,” 2017, was also commissioned and portrays the young boy on the other side of the glass door. The third sequel, “What Remains,” 2021, serves to complete the series. The sequels and a prequel can be viewed on Stoneham Studios and Fine Art America. No similar happenings have been reported for these paintings, and they do not seem to inspire the same amount of disturbing reactions or internet buzz.