Who was Madame Tussaud?

In major cities around the world, tourists can visit Madame Tussauds for a look at their renowned wax sculptures. From London to Hong Kong and everywhere in between, these areas are filled with likenesses of celebrities, but not many know about the life and times of the woman for which it was named.

Born in France in 1761, Marie Tussaud was the original sculptor of these wax works. Her passion for sculpting came when her mother introduced her to Dr Philippe Curtius, a famed sculptor. Her mother grew closer to the sculptor and he chose to show Marie the skills needed to create likenesses. The doctor had used the sculptures to illustrate anatomy, but Marie showed a talent for making the wax works in the image of real people. Her first sculpture was that of Voltaire, a French writer who was a hot topic at the time.

Until the French Revolution, Tussaud continued to make more and more sculptures of famous individuals. She became famous for her work with members of the royal family and celebrities of the time. One of her most famed works was the model of Benjamin Franklin that she created in the 1700s.

When the French Revolution came around, this led to a lot of changes for Tussaud, but it also gave her a number of opportunities. She met with key players like Napoleon, but her association with other figures during this time led to her capture during the Reign of Terror. She was condemned to death by guillotine and had her head shaved in preparation for her execution. In the nick of time, her long-time patron Dr. Curtius came to her aid and used his connections to free her from her fate.

After this, she used her skill to create death masks of those who had perished during the Revolution, as many wealthy families would commission these works. These masks were then used by revolutionaries to tout their victories through the streets. At this time, her most famous works included masks of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and Robespierre which were shown off by these revolutionaries.

In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens allowed Tussaud to travel to London to show her pieces, thanks to Paul Philidor. The invitation was given as a result of the fever pitch of her fame, which had been achieved as a result of her death masks. When things went sour between the pair after a season of showing their works together, Tussaud was trapped in Great Britain as the Napoleonic Wars had begun.

Tussaud opened her first permanent exhibition in 1835 on Baker Street and this is where the Madame Tussaud waxworks truly began. Now they’ve reached all the way to Washington DC, where thousands of tourists view these works every day. If you’d like to learn more about Madame Tussaud, and take a few pictures with recent additions to the collection, then join us on the Hop On, Hop Off tour. This tour will allow you to visit this museum, among others, and see what has become of the legacy of Tussaud herself.