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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 16:59 GMT
Austen picture puzzle
woman in costume
Could this be what young Jane Austen looked like?
A centre dedicated to Jane Austen has commissioned a portrait of the author to try to establish what she looked like.

Very few pictures of the novelist exist, so Bath's Jane Austen Centre has asked a local artist to create a likeness.

The finished painting will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the author's move to Bath.

In 1801, the Austen family went to live in the fashionable city.

It's a heck of a task and not everybody will agree with my representation

Dave Seymour, Artist

A great deal is known about what Jane Austen did from her diaries and letters but what she looked like has not been recorded in any detail.

Bath artist Dave Seymour has been given the task of painting her.

He will base the likeness on a picture drawn by her sister Cassandra, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, and written descriptions of Jane.

Mr Seymour told BBC News Online: "I didn't know much about her but I've swatted up in the last few months.

"The painting by her sister is not a very good likeness - Jane Austen's niece said it didn't look like her - but there are some descriptions of her."

According to his research, Jane had hazel eyes, and was thought quite tall at the time, even though she was just 5ft 2in (157cm).

She is also thought to have possessed a child-like quality, been flirtatious and loved company.

Another factor which will play a part in the portrait is the illness from which Jane Austen suffered.

She died, aged 41, from Addison's disease - a rare disorder which darkens the skin of people affected by it.

Lookalike hunt

Mr Seymour, who specialises in oil portraits and watercolours of Georgian Bath, is also on the hunt for a lookalike to pose for the painting.

"I have a picture in my mind of Jane's appearance and character at the time she lived in Bath, when she was in her early twenties," he said.

"I think she was a typical English girl but it's a heck of a task and not everybody will agree with my representation."

The painting will be done in oils and take several weeks to finish.

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