My mother's hands

The following is an excerpt of an article published in The Strand Magazine, Volume V, Issue 26, February 1893 by Beckles Wilson, on the subject of hands:

The hand, like the face, is indicative or representative of character. Even those who find the path to belief in the doctrines of the palmist and chirognomist paved with innumerable thorns, cannot fail to be interested in the illustrious manual examples, collected from the studios of various sculptors, which accompany this article.

Mr. Adams-Acton, a distinguished sculptor, tells me his belief that there is as great expression in the hand as in the face; and another great artist, Mr. Alfred Gilbert, R.A., goes even a step further: he invests the bare knee with expression and vital identity. There would, indeed, appear to be no portion of the human frame which is incapable of giving forth some measure of the inherent distinctiveness of its owner. This is, I think, especially true of the hand. No one who was fortunate enough to observe the slender, tapering fingers and singular grace of the hand of the deceased Poet Laureate could possibly believe it the extremity of a coarse or narrow-minded person. In the accompanying photographs, the hand of a cool, yet enthusiastic, ratiocinative spirit will be found to bear a palpable affinity to others whose possessors come under this head, and yet be utterly antagonistic to Carlyle's, or to another type, Cardinal Manning's.

We have here spread out for our edification hands of majesty, hands of power; of artistic creativeness; of cunning; hands of the ruler, the statesman, the soldier, the author, and the artist. To philosophers disposed to resolve a science from representative examples here is surely no lack of matter. It would, on the whole, be difficult to garner from the century's history a more glittering array of celebrities in all the various departments of endeavour than is here presented.

Queen Victoria's hands

 Princess Alice's hands
First and foremost, entitled to precedence almost by a double right, for this cast antedates, with one exception, all the rest, are the hands of Her Majesty the Queen. They were executed in 1844, when Her Majesty had sat upon the throne but seven years, and, if I do not greatly err, in connection with the first statue of the Queen after her accession. They will no doubt evoke much interest when compared with the hand of the lamented Princess Alice, who was present at the first ceremony, an infant in arms of eight months. In addition to that of the Princess Alice, taken in 1872, we have the hands of the Princesses Louise and Beatrice, all three of whom sat for portrait statues to Sir Edgar Boehm, R.A., from whose studio, also, emanates the cast of the hand of the Prince of Wales.

Prince Of Wales's hands

Princess Beatrice's hand              Princess Louise's hand.

In each of the manual extremities thus presented of the Royal Family, similar characteristics may be noticed. The dark hue which appears on the surface of the hands of the two last named Princesses is not the fault of the photograph but of the casts, which are, unfortunately, in a soiled condition.

It is a circumstance not a little singular, but the only cast in this collection which is anterior to the Queen's, itself appertains to Royalty, being none other than the hand of Caroline, sister of the first Napoleon, who also, it must not be forgotten, was a queen. It is purposely coupled in the photograph with that of Anak, the famous French giant, in order to exhibit the exact degree of its deficiency in that quality which giants most and ladies least can afford to be complaisant over size. Certainly it would be hard to deny it grace and exquisite proportion, in which it resembles an even more beautiful hand, that of the Greek lady, Zoe, wife of the late Archbishop of York, which seems to breathe of Ionian mysticism and elegance.

In 2005 I photographed "my mother's hands" and though she has since died I still find it compelling. I see such contrasts in subject matter, textures, colour and age, the old holding the young, It was just a study while I was playing while learning photography, but I marvel at the colours lines and character her hands showed, and it tickles me that in 1893 someone found this subject as interesting as I find it ... still today.

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