A new three dimensional image of Jane Austen has gone on display in Bath – the city that features so strongly in two of her books. The wax work likeness was unveiled at the Jane Austen Centre and is now on show to the thousands of fans who visit every year.
The novels of Jane Austen are known throughout the world, her heroes and heroines have been brought to life in many adaptations, and the industry which has built up around her name is significant.
So whilst people happily associate Jane Austen’s characters with the actors who portray them, perhaps most famously Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, there remains a real desire to possess a likeness of the writer herself.
The only verifiable image of Jane Austen is a small watercolour painted by her sister Cassandra but it has been acknowledged by experts as a poor attempt and was described by her niece as ‘hideously unlike’ her aunt Jane.
However, there are many contemporary descriptions of her by friends and this is where the Jane Austen Centre enters the picture.
The chance reading in 2002 of an article about forensic artist Melissa Dring’s work in creating a likeness of the composer Vivaldi from eye-witness accounts spurred David Baldock, Director of The Jane Austen Centre, into action.
David contacted and commissioned Melissa to create a new portrait of Jane. And then a year later, David engaged handwriting expert Patricia Field to reveal further aspects of Jane’s character through a ‘blind’ study of handwriting samples.
Inspired by the overwhelming positive response to these additional pieces of the jigsaw that is Austen’s life and to address the continuing, near insatiable demand for further revelations, David has now taken this process one step further and commissioned a three-dimensional, life-size wax figure.
The figure is based on the 2002 portrait and its creation has been undertaken by internationally-renowned portrait sculptor Mark Richards. The figure has been dressed in authentic-period costume by Bafta & Emmy award-winning designer Andrea Galer, while the finishing touches have been completed by ex-Madame Tussaud’s hair and colour artist Nell Clarke.
As the popularity of her work and interest in her life has never been greater, and the modern-day Jane Austen fan (or Janeite) can be very opinionated to the point of over-protectiveness, with some going so far as to see themselves as the self-appointed guardians of her image, this figure is almost certain to provoke controversy.
Ultimately though, it will hopefully take admirers of her work that one step closer to finally revealing exactly what Jane Austen looked liked.