Hands Etching

Hands Etching, by Francis Seymour Haden (1819-1910). 1865. Etching with Dry-point. 8 3/8" x 5 3/8". Salaman, Plate 45.

Haden made several etchings of his hands — another of hands etching, and one of hands holding a crayon or folded. He seemed to be showing "how the thing was done" (Salaman 14), and perhaps was also fascinated by the different uses to which he could put his own dexterity. Certainly here, with the Latin epigram ("The sweet solace of labours") he expressed his pleasure in the hobby for which he would chiefly be remembered. Since he was a busy surgeon with a large private practice and important official duties, etching was far from being his principal occupation. Yet he became "one of the most important spokesmen for etching in nineteenth-century England," and contributed hugely towards the recognition and "professionalization of the art" (Hind and Chambers). "I venture to think the modern painter much to blame for his indifference to so original, prolific, and passionate an art," he wrote, with some bitterness, continuing,

— an indifference to which we owe the absurd idea that has come to be spread abroad that Etching, the most difficult of the Arts, is fitted only for the amusement of the amateur, — and the Royal Academy no less so when it admits Engravers to a share of its honours and excludes original Etchers. [15]

This is an usual piece, in that the centre of the etching is dominated by (and only by) the printed saying. Haden was a pioneer in noting the effect of white space in an etching, the uses to which it could be put, and its effect:

The theory that Etching supposes imperfect drawing and the loose treatment which belongs to the sketch, I believe to arise out of the fact that, in the more open parts of the picture — in the parts, for instance, in broad sunshine — it is the practice of the best Etchers to put little apparent work. It is, however, precisely in those parts that selection, skilled drawing, knowledge, and that peculiar reticence which I have spoken of elsewhere as the "labour of omission," are most required. [17]

Highly self-conscious in the pursuit of his art, Haden has many memorable and useful insights in to it, springing from his awareness that "[i]n no branch of art does a touch go for so much" (18).

Image capture and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the image for a larger picture.]


Haden, Sir Francis Seymour. About Etching, Part I. Notes by Mr. Seymour Haden on a Collection of Etchings by the Great Masters. London: Fine Arts Society, 1879. Internet Archive. Contributed by Oxford University. Web. 1 April 2015.

Hind, A. M., rev. E. Chambers. "Haden, Sir Francis Seymour [pseud. H. Dean] (1818–1910), etcher and surgeon." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. 1 April 2015.

Salaman, Malcolm C. The Etchings of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, PRE. London: Halton and Truscott Smith, 1923. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 1 April 2015.

Created 1 April 2015