Madame Tussaud: Artist in Wax

A Woman far Beyond Her Times.  Look into the life and times of one of the world’s most fascinating female entrepreneurs.

Early Years

Born in 1761, two months after her father was killed in the Franco Prussian War, Marie Grosholtz was raised by her mother who made ends meet by working as a house maid. Her employer, Dr. Phillipe Curtius, was skilled in the art of wax modeling, which he used to illustrate anatomy. He took a keen interest in the highly intelligent Marie and introduced her to the world of wax that would forever be associated with her name. Under his guidance, support and training, Marie started working with clay. Her unusual talent, photographic memory and keen eye for detail made her a star pupil. The woman who woould soon be known as Madame Tussaud made plaster casts of some of the more famous people of the day, including Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin who modeled for her in 1783. She exhibited her first wax collection in Paris in the late 1700s.

Versailles, Marriage and The Reign of Terror

Through the connections of her employer, Marie was invited to the royal court of Versailles. Here she found herself in the middle of a violent and bloody revolution, and her job was to create death masks from the faces of such royal guillotine victims as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. Marie herself was imprisoned and narrowly escaped death. She shared a cell with none other than Josephine de Beauharnais, the future wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. They were friends forever afterward and Napoleon himself posed for Marie at the request of Josephine. When Dr. Curtius died in 1794, he left his waxwork collection to Marie, and in 1795, she married Francois Tussaud. The couple had two sons.

Immigration to England, Later years and Death

In 1802, Madame Tussaud left her husband and emigrated to England with her first born son, then four years old. She was unable to return to France due to war with England and she traveled with her collection throughout Britain and Ireland until 1821 when she was reunited with her second son. Madame Tussaud opened a permanent waxwork exhibit on London’s Baker Street in 1835.

Madame Tussaud died in 1850. Today, her London Rock Circus displays many of the world’s greatest rock stars and is visited by more than 700,000 people every year. Tussaud’s New York branch on West 42nd Street cost 50 million dollars to construct and its state of the art format has altered the concept of the wax museum forever.

And its all due to the dogged determination of one single woman to make a name for herself.

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