Forensic artists worked the last three years to create a Jane Austen wax figure, to show fans what the famous author actually looked like. Although Austen’s books are widely known, until now, what the author looked like has remained a mystery. The waxwork is finally finished and is on display to the public in Bath, a town Austen lived in for a short time during her life.
Jane Austen was born in Hampshire on December 16, 1775. The famous writer grew up in a large family of eight children. The family is all described as sharing the same features: sparkling brown eyes, curly brown hair, and a long nose. Austen died in 1817, when she was only 41. One of her books, Pride and Prejudice, was voted the one book people could not live without, according to a BBC poll in 2007.
Austen never sat for an official portrait. Her sister, Cassandra, drew the only portrait of her. However, some feel that Cassandra’s portrait makes Austen look sour, like she was sucking on lemons. FBI trained portrait painter and forensic artist, Melissa Dring, worked painstakingly on the wax figure, and only had letters and Cassandra’s portrait to go on.
Dring also agrees that Cassandra’s portrait makes Austen look like she is an unpleasant person. Dring describes Austen’s face in the portrait as having “a somewhat sour and dour expression.” This may surprise faithful Austen fans, because the author wrote with such a light hand, and with a great sense of humor. Austen usually poked fun of the sour characters in her books. Dring agrees, and says that from all accounts of Austen, she was described as a very lively, mischievous, witty, and fun person to be around.
To create the wax figure, Dring spent 18 months pouring over eyewitness accounts, via old letters and diaries, which described Austen. Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, described his aunt as being tall and slim, with a graceful step. Austen also had rich curly brown hair, a small nose, bright hazel eyes, and full round cheeks. The nephew also described Austen’s personality as being full of “health and animation.”
The forensic artist then created a watercolor sketch, with a small pencil, as a starting point for a pastel portrait. The pastel portrait became the basis for the wax figure. Dring then made a 3D portrait from her drawing. Mark Richards, a royal sculptor, took over from there and built the waxwork. This wax figure of Jane Austen is the closest anyone has ever come to capturing what the famous writer really looked like. Andrea Galer, an Emmy award-winning costume designer, created the dress and bonnet the wax figure is wearing.
Dring was excited when The Jane Austen Centre in Bath asked her to create the first true likeness of the writer, via the wax figure. Dring said that she tried to make the wax figure really capture the essence of who Austen was, a really lovely girl. Dring also said she wanted Austen to look like she was plotting her next book.
By Sara Petersen