Madame Tussaud - Wax Sculptress Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Madame Tussaud - Wax Sculptress

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A wax work head being created

Madame Tussaud was born Marie Gosoltz in Strasbourg in 1761. Her father, a soldier, was killed in the seven-year war, two months before Marie was born. She and her mother lived alone; her mother was a housekeeper for Dr Philippe Curtius, a skilled wax sculptor. Marie became his assistant and soon she was allowed to make the wax masks of many famous people including King Louis XVI and the American statesman Benjamin Franklin. She served the French royal court for many years.

Marie and the French Revolution

During the French Revolution she and her mother came very close to being executed themselves. They shared a cell for a while with Josephine de Beauharnais, who after the revolution married Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and became Empress.

Marie made the death mask of the Queen of France, as well as many other accused criminals who were executed by the guillotine in the French Revolution. These death masks are still on display, with the guillotine blade used in the actual execution.

Marie on Tour

When Dr Curtius died in 1795, he left Marie his entire wax sculpture exhibition, which already had become quite famous in France. The exhibition then contained many famous people from the time; Lord Byron, Benjamin Franklin, King George IV and the death masks of the French royals.

That same year she married Fran├žois Tussaud and had three children - one daughter (who died) and two sons. Eight years later, she moved to England with her oldest son, and began touring the British Isles.

During the British tour the exhibition survived many perils, for example, in 1822 a ship carrying the exhibition to Ireland hit a rock, but most of the sculptures were saved.

In 1835, Madame Tussaud's wax cabinet settled in Baker Street, London.

Madame Tussaud in London

In 1835, when the exhibition had settled down, it was easier to create many new sculptures. The exhibition began to grow with the expansion of the cabinet to include 'The Separate Room', known today as 'The Chamber of Horrors'. The room contained many of the world's most dangerous criminals. Murderers were stored along with replicas of their victims' dead bodies.

Marie Tussaud died in 1850; eight years earlier she had completed her greatest work, a remarkable self-portrait that is still on display today. Her grandsons continued the work and in 1884 they moved the exhibition to its current location on Marylebone Road.

The exhibition has survived many accidents along the years. In 1925 an electrical fault caused a raging fire; by the time the fire brigade arrived many of the sculptures had already melted, but many of the head moulds were saved. This meant that, despite the fire destroying the death masks of, among others, Robespierre, the masks could be remade.

In 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, London endured the first of many bombing raids. On 8 September, 1940, the first night of the London Blitz, Madame Tussaud's was hit by a bomb which inflicted heavy damage. Over 325 head moulds were damaged beyond repair. Also the cinema, which was added after the fire in 1925, was completely destroyed1.

Madame Tussaud's Today

Today, Madame Tussaud's is built in six different sections:

  • The Garden Party is an exhibition dedicated to different notables from around the world.

  • The Grand Hall is dedicated to the greatest of the greatest, royals, presidents, prime ministers and so on.

  • 200 Years shows how much Madame Tussaud's has changed since it began touring in 1802. It contains sleeping beauty and a death mask of Robespierre as well as many others.

  • Superstars has the biggest stars from television, news, cinemas and the 20th Century in general, including Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Brando.

  • The Chamber of Horrors displays the most terrifying people and events of the last 200 years. There you can see Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), Hitler, a scene of Marie Tussaud making death masks of the guillotine victims' severed heads, and John Reginald Halliday Christie taking the drop, and many other criminals.

  • Spirit of London is a ride through different scenes of London history over the past 400 years in small replica London cabs. The ride starts with a model of Queen Elizabeth I sitting on her throne.

Today Madame Tussaud's Waxworks in London is owned by the Tussaud's Group. The Tussaud's Group2 is a major entertainment business based in the UK. Other attractions in the UK include the London Planetarium, Warwick Castle, British Airways London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park and Alton Towers, and the Alton Towers Hotel. There are also Tussaud's attractions in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and New York.

A National Heritage?

Madame Tussaud was a remarkable character in so many ways, she was a shrewd businesswoman, as well as a master-craftswoman. She gave Madame Tussaud's a reputation which cannot be destroyed as long as the workers, who, guided by her spirit, do everything they can to protect the history of perfection which Madame Tussaud's stands for today.

1Today it is the site of the London Planetarium.2Pronounced 'Too-sodes', not 'too-swords'.

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