Madame Tussauds is a world-famous wax museum known for its lifelike wax sculptures of celebrities, historical figures, and other notable individuals. The museum’s history is a fascinating tale that dates back to the late 18th century.
Here is an overview of the history of Madame Tussauds:
Early Life of Madame Marie Tussaud:
Madame Marie Tussaud, born Marie Grosholtz in Strasbourg, France, in 1761, learned the art of wax modeling from her mentor, Dr. Philippe Curtius, a physician skilled in wax sculpting.
In 1793, during the Reign of Terror period of the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud was suspected of being a royal sympathizer and was reportedly imprisoned for three months and forced to create death masks of executed aristocrats, including King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Those two particular masks of the king and queen were never exhibited in France though on order of the newly established national legislature, known as the National Convention.
This experience honed her wax modeling skills and provided her with a unique collection of death masks. Tussaud continued to make wax models, particularly of political figures, and in 1797 was even commissioned to make wax models of Josephine Bonaparte and her husband Napoleon.
Establishment of the First Wax Exhibition:
In 1802, after the end of the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud left France and traveled to Britain with her wax collection, which included sculptures of famous individuals and the wax death heads of the French aristocrats.
That year, she set up her first wax exhibition in London, which she called Curtius’s Cabinet of Curiosities. She showcased her collection of wax sculptures, which included lifelike figures of famous personalities and historical figures, along with her unique collection of death masks made during the French Revolution.
Madame Tussaud’s exhibitions were a unique blend of education and entertainment. Her wax figures were not only meticulously crafted but also provided a way for the public to see and learn about prominent individuals from history and contemporary society.
Tussaud’s exhibition quickly gained popularity due to its unique and macabre nature. She quickly adapted to the tastes and interests of the London public. Her exhibitions often featured figures of notorious criminals, political leaders, and celebrities, catering to the curiosity and fascination of the audience.
Development and Growth:
Madame Tussaud’s exhibitions were not limited to a single location. She toured various cities in the United Kingdom, taking her wax figures on the road to reach a wider audience and gain popularity.
In the early 19th century, Madame Tussaud continued to expand her collection and exhibitions, adding more lifelike wax figures of celebrities and historical figures.
The museum moved to several locations within London before settling at its current location on Marylebone Road in 1884.
Madame Tussaud’s sons, Joseph and François, played significant roles in managing and expanding the museum’s operations. The Tussaud family maintained the museum’s prominence for several generations.
Over the years, Madame Tussauds’ collection continued to grow, featuring not only historical figures but also celebrities from various fields, including entertainment, sports, politics, and royalty.
The wax figures are meticulously crafted, capturing the likeness and details of the subjects, and are updated to reflect current popular culture.
The success of Madame Tussauds in London led to the establishment of branches in other major cities worldwide, including Amsterdam in 1970, Las Vegas in 1999, New York and Hong Kong in 2000, St. Augustine in 2015 and many more.
Each branch creates its own unique collection tailored to the interests and preferences of its local audience.
Madame Tussauds has changed ownership several times over the years. It has been part of various entertainment and leisure conglomerates, such as Merlin Entertainments and the Blackstone Group.
Today, Madame Tussauds is not just a museum but a global brand known for its engaging and interactive exhibits that allow visitors to get up close and personal with their favorite celebrities and historical figures. It continues to be a popular tourist attraction and a symbol of the artistry and craftsmanship of wax modeling.
Pillbeam, Pamela. Madame Tussaud and the History of Wax Works. Hambledon and London, 2003.
Eschner, Kat. “How Marie Tussaud Created a Wax Empire.” Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Dec. 2017, smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-marie-tussaud-created-wax-empire-180967356/
Carey, Edward. “Madame Tussaud: the astounding tale of survival behind the woman who made history.” The Guardian, 4 Oct. 2018, theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/04/madame-tussaud-edward-carey-little