Many people like going to wax museums to see the life-like recreations of famous people and celebrities, both alive and dead. But did you ever stop to wonder how wax museums became so popular in the first place? Most people already know about the most famous chain of wax museums in the world which is Madame Tussauds. But did you know that she was a real person and that the way she got started creating wax figures was anything but fun?
The Early Life Of Madame Tussaud
She was born December 1st, 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Her real name was Marie Grosholtz. Her father was a soldier who died in combat. Later on, her mother (Anne-Marie Walder) moved to Switzerland and worked for doctor Curtius. Marie was about six years old at the time and she grew very close to doctor Curtius. He taught her a lot about anatomy and creating wax figures. When he died he left his entire wax collection to her.
The Early Career Of Madame Tussaud
In 1777 she made her first wax figure which was a recreation of Voltaire. Then between 1780 and 1789, she created wax portraits of Benjamin Franklin and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a famous philosopher. In her memoirs, she says the Royal Court in Versailles learned about her skills in 1780 and asked her to be a personal art tutor for King Louis XVI's sister, Madame Elizabeth. Because of this, she was able to travel and meet famous people and French revolutionaries, although this may have caused her more trouble than she would have liked.
Unfortunately, during the Reign of Terror Madame Tussaud was accused of being a royal sympathizer and was thrown into the La Forte Prison. Her hair was shaved off in order to prepare her for execution. But thankfully, Doctor Curtius, her former mentor, was able to negotiate her release. But afterward, she had to show that she was loyal to the Revolution by making death masks of those that had been killed by guillotine. Unfortunately, she knew many of these people so this was probably extremely difficult for her. But these masks were important. They were used as a way of keeping records of those that had been killed. In a time when photography didn't exist, this was the only way to preserve a person's likeness. In fact, creating death masks for this purpose goes back all the way to ancient Rome and Egypt.
Madame Tussaud's Later Life
Eventually, she left France and never returned. She traveled all throughout Europe showing off her detailed and often disturbing wax figures. She married a man named Francois Tussaud and she named her traveling show "Madame Tussauds". Later on, her husband left her and their children so she moved to England and opened a museum there. Her wax museum was extremely successful and many famous people visited. Some people came just to see the wax versions of themselves, including the Duke of Wellington. But of course, her museum wasn't without controversy. There were also those who thought she shouldn't profit from death and tragedy. But for the most part, people loved her displays.
She continued to work into her 80's and died when she was 88 years old in 1850. But today, her brand is known all throughout the world and every work created by her studio costs over $186,000. Many of the original methods used by her are still used today to create wax sculptures of celebrities and politicians. It can take several months to create one sculpture and it starts with a series of photos and measures in order to make sure it's as close to the real person as possible. They even use real human hair (even for things like eyelashes and eyebrows).
Madame Tussaud's story is a fascinating one. She went through a great deal in her life but through hard work, she was able to overcome the odds and create an extremely successful business. She has gone down in history as one of the world's most successful businesswomen. Not many people can say they have lived through such bloody and turbulent times and survived, let alone made it through it and become so successful. But Madame Tussaud did just that. She survived and went on to become a world famous household name.
AtlasObscura.com. How the Real Madame Tussaud Built a Business Out of Beheadings. Accessed at https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/tussauds on July 30, 2018.
HistoryToday.com. Death of Madame Tussaud. Accessed at https://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/death-madame-tussaud on July 30, 2018.