“Every day–other than Christmas–thousands of tourists pour out of London’s Baker Street station en route to the curious mecca of waxed figures, Madame Tussauds. On display are life-like replicas of the modern world’s most influential people from Voltaire and Charles Dickens to Victoria and David Beckham.
It was on 1 December 1761 that the founder of Madame Tussauds, Marie Grosholtz, was born in Strasbourg, France. Her life was an incredible testament to movement and energy–all captured in the frozen figures of her wax masterpieces.
Her father was a soldier who was killed shortly before Marie’s birth. Her mother, forced to fend for herself, gathered up her belongings and the young Marie and journeyed to Bern, Switzerland where she secured work as a housekeeper for a physician named Dr Philippe Curtius. As fate would have it, Curtius was a skilled wax modeler, whose works were used for the study of anatomy. His recognisable skill led him to Paris where he was commissioned to produce a wax model of King Louis XV’s mistress. By 1770, Marie and her mother had joined Curtius in Paris, where he successfully exhibited a selection of his work to the general public. As his fame grew, Curtius, trained Marie.
Marie’s evident talent for wax modelling was to bring her into contact with the great figures of the forthcoming French Revolution. She served as an art tutor at Versailles to Louis XVI’s sister. More gruesomely, and as the time dictated, her work included commissions to produce death masks for victims freshly executed by the infamous guillotine–her subjects included Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and even Robespierre.
In 1795, she married an engineer named Francois Tussaud. The marriage was not a happy one, and seven years later, Marie moved to England with her two young sons and her wax collection–eventually settling in a home on Baker Street, not far from the museum’s current location.
The museum today still includes many of Marie Tussaud’s models of her famous contemporaries, including Voltaire, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Benjamin Franklin and others–not to mention the eerie death masks. Surrounding these are figures of less significant historical value, but, perhaps, of more considerable touristic value to. Figures of British royals rub wax elbows with heavyweight boxers, fashion models, Hollywood celebrities and even comic book characters. In all there are nearly 400 models in the London museum–additional branches have opened globally–made up of an estimated 2,400 lbs. of wax.
To date, the museum claims that more than 500 million people have visited its great wax collection, making it one of the UK’s greatest tourist draws. It seems fair to say that there is something, or someone, for everyone at Madame Tussauds.”
Credit: © INTERFOTO / Alamy
Caption: The founder of Madame Tussauds, Marie Grosholtz, was a master wax sculptor who led a fascinating life due to her prodigious talent.