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Wax Wonder Worker: Madame Tussaud

Updated on March 20, 2016

Marie Tussaud, Age 42, by John T. Tussaud

Wax Wonder Worker: Madame Marie Tussaud

Anna Marie Gresholtz born on December 1, 1761 in a small village in Alscae, on the German/French border. Marie and her family eventually moved to Pairs, where she learned wax-working from Philippe Curtius a Swiss doctor and artist whom she referred to as her uncle (though some speculated that he might have actually been her father), who owned the Cabinet de cire, a museum of waxwork figures. Marie proved to be very talented, and her portraits of famous people such as Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire helped to make her uncle’s museum a success. During this time Marie was also hired to be an art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister, and she quickly made friends with the royalty and many members of the court.

Unfortunately, Marie’s popularity with the royal family almost proved fatal for her; during the French Revolution of 1793, Marie was arrested by the revolutionists and imprisoned, charged with being a royalist (supporting the monarchy) and sentenced to die by guillotine, but she was spared by the intervention of Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois, a leader of the revolutionaries, because he was supportive of her Philippe Curtius and their family. The rebels just wanted one thing from Marie in exchange for her freedom, though: she had to make wax replicas from the heads of Marie Antoinette, King Louis and many other noblemen and women that they had executed so they could show them off as trophies. Many of these people had been her friends.

When Philippe passed away in 1794, he left his museum and wax working business to his niece. The following year, Marie married Francois Tussaud, becoming Madame Tussaud. They had two sons, Francois and Joseph. (Apparently the couple separated, but I haven’t found the reasons why.)

In 1802, Madame Tussaud began having financial trouble, so she decided to take her famous wax figures on the road. Because of the Napoleonic wars, Madame Tussaud was not allowed to return to France. Knowing that she had to find a way to support herself and her two young sons, Madame Tussaud decided to continue exhibiting her wax portraits, touring the British Isles for the next thirty years. She was an excellent judge of what interested the public, and she was continuously adding to her collection, drawing in bigger and bigger crowds every day.

In 1835, her tour proved so successful that Madame Tussaud set up a permanent exhibit on Baker Street in London called Madame Tussaud’s. Three years later she wrote her memoirs, which many people have criticized for being filled with exaggerations and lies. In 1842 Madame Tussaud made of of her last waxwork figures, a self portrait, which stands in the entrance of her London museum to greet guests.

Madame Tussaud died on April 16, 1850 at 90 years old, passing away peacefully in her sleep. Her son Francois took over management of her museum, and it is still in operation nearly 200 years later. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London today with branches in New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and many other cities.

Madame Tussaud works cited:

The Usborne Book of Famous Women, by Richard Dunworth and Philippa Wingate

“Madame Tussaud,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_Tussaud

“Madame Tussaud,” http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Marie_Tussaud.aspx

“Madame Tussaud,” http://www.britannica.com/biography/Marie-Tussaud

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, https://www2.madametussauds.com/

Wax Portraits on Display at Madame Tussaud's Museums

John Wayne (London)
John Wayne (London)
Bruce Lee (Hong Kong)
Bruce Lee (Hong Kong)
The Beatles (Hong Kong)
The Beatles (Hong Kong)

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