Anna Maria “Marie” Tussaud (née Grosholtz; 1 December 1761 – 16 April 1850) was a French born artist of German descent, who became known for her wax sculptures and Madame Tussauds, the wax museum that she founded in London.
Marie Tussaud was born 1 December 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Her father, Joseph Grosholtz, was killed in the Seven Years’ War just two months before Marie was born. Her mother, Anne-Marie Walder, took her to Bern where she worked as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius (1741–1794), a physician and wax sculptor who Marie would call her uncle. Curtius initially used his talent for wax modeling to illustrate anatomy. Later, he did portraits.
Curtius moved to Paris in 1765 to establish a cabinet de portraits en cire (wax portrait exhibition). In that year, he made a waxwork of Louis XV’s last mistress, Madame du Barry, a cast that is the oldest work currently on display. A year later, Tussaud and her mother joined Curtius in Paris. The first exhibition of Curtius’ waxworks was shown in 1770 and attracted a large crowd. In 1776, the exhibition was moved to the Palais Royal and, in 1782, Curtius opened a second exhibit, the Caverne des Grands Voleurs, a precursor to the later chamber of horrors, on Boulevard du Temple.
It was Curtius who taught Tussaud the art of wax modeling. She showed talent for the technique and began working for him as an artist. In 1777, she created her first wax figure, that of Voltaire. From 1780 until the Revolution in 1789, Tussaud created many of her most famous portraits of celebrities such as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. At the same time, she remained on good terms with the French royal family. She claimed in later years to have been employed to teach “votive” making to Élisabeth the sister of Louis XVI. Elisabeth, it is said, enjoyed making wax dolls to represent various religious figures.
In her memoirs (a some what unreliable source), Tussaud claimed that it was in this capacity that she was frequently privy to private conversations between the princess and her brother and members of his court. She also claimed that members of the royal family were so pleased with her work that she was invited to live at Versailles.
In Paris, Tussaud became involved in the French Revolution and met many of its important figures including Napoleon Bonaparte and Robespierre.
On 12 July 1789, wax heads of Jacques Necker and the duc d’Orléans made by Curtius were carried in a protest march two days before the attack on the Bastille.
Tussaud was arrested during the Reign of Terror together with Joséphine de Beauharnais; her head was shaved in preparation for execution by guillotine. However, thanks to Collot d’Herbois’ support for Curtius and his household, she was released. Tussaud was then employed to make death masks of the victims of the time, including some of the Revolution’s most infamous dead such as Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre. Her death masks were held up as revolutionary flags and paraded through the streets of Paris. Soon, Tussaud was searching through sanitaries collecting the most illustrious heads she could find.
When Curtius died in 1794, he left his collection of wax works to Tussaud. In 1795, she married François Tussaud. The couple had two children, Joseph and François.
In 1802, after the Treaty of Amiens, Tussaud went to London with her son Joseph, then four years old, to present her collection of portraits having accepted an invitation from Paul Philidor, a magic lantern and phantasmagoria pioneer, to exhibit her work alongside his show at the Lyceum Theatre, London. She did not fare particularly well financially, with Philidor taking half of her profits.
When Marie Tussaud moved to London in 1802 to set up her own exhibition at the Lyceum Theatre she brought some of these figures with her and set them up in a separate gallery; and when later she toured her exhibits around the country she maintained this division in her exhibition using a ‘Separate Room’ to display them in. The exhibits at this time included the heads of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as well as Madame du Barry, Marat, Robespierre, Hébert, Carrier and Fouquier-Tinville in addition to models of a guillotine and the Bastille and the Egyptian mummy from Curtuis’ collection.
As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Tussaud was unable to return to France so she traveled with her collection throughout Great Britain and Ireland. In 1822, probably during Chateaubriand’s ambassadorship, her other son, François, joined her. In 1835, she established her first permanent exhibition in Baker Street, on the upper floor of the “Baker Street Bazaar”. Here the ‘Separate Room’ became the ‘Chamber of Horrors’. At this time her exhibits included Colonel Despard, Arthur Thistlewood, William Corder and Burke and Hare, in addition to those listed above. The name ‘Chamber of Horrors’ is often credited to a contributor to Punch in 1845, but Marie Tussaud appears to have originated it herself, using it in advertising as early as 1843. Visitors were charged an extra sixpence to enter the ‘Separate Room’.
In 1838, she wrote her memoirs. In 1842, she made a self-portrait which is now on display at the entrance of her museum. Some of the sculptures done by Tussaud herself still exist.
She died in her sleep in London on 16 April 1850 at the age of 88. There is a memorial tablet to Madame Marie Tussaud on the right side of the nave of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, London.
Upon Marie Tussaud’s retirement, her son François (or Francis) became chief artist for the Exhibition. He was succeeded in turn by his son Joseph, who was succeeded by his son John Theodore Tussaud.
Madame Tussaud’s wax museum has now grown to become one of the major tourist attractions in London, and has expanded with branches in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Sydney, Madame Tussauds Hong Kong (Victoria Peak), Las Vegas, Shanghai, Berlin, Washington D.C., New York City, and Hollywood. The current owner is Merlin Entertainments Group, a company owned by Blackstone Group.
Information and photos from Wikipedia.com