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Marie Tussaud

Marie Tussaud (December 1, 1761 - April 16, 1850) is known for her wax sculptures and Madame Tussauds, the wax museum she setup in London.

She was born as Marie Grosholtz (sometimes spelled Grossholtz or Grossholz) in Strasbourg. Her father, a soldier named Joseph Grosholtz, was killed in the Seven Years' War before Marie was born. Her mother, Anne Made, took her to Berne where she moved to work as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius (1741-1794).

Curtius was a physician, and was skilled in wax modelling, which he used to illustrate anatomy. Later he started to do portraits. Tussaud called him uncle.

Curtius moved to Paris in 1765, starting work to set up a wax figure cabinet. In that year he made a waxwork of Marie Jean du Barry , Louis XV's mistress. A cast of that mould is the oldest work currently on display. In 1767 Tussaud and her mother joined Curtius and also moved to Paris. The first exhibition of Curtius' waxworks was shown in 1770, and attracted a lot of people. The exhibition moved to the Palais Royal in 1776. He opened a second location on Boulevard du Temple in 1782, the Caverne des Grands Voleurs , a precursor to the later chamber of horrors.

Curtius taught Tussaud the art of wax modelling. She started to work for him and showed a lot of talent. She created her first wax figure, of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in 1778. Other famous persons she modelled at that time include Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin.

In Paris Tussaud became involved in the French Revolution. She met many of its important figures, including Napoleon and Robespierre. On the other hand she was also on very good terms with the royalty. In particular, from 1780 up to the revolution in 1789 she taught art to the sister of Louis XVI. In fact so pleased were they with her, that on their invitation she moved to live at Versailles.

On July 12, 1789 wax heads of Necker and the duc d'Orléans made by Curtius were carried in a protest march two days before the revolution.

However, Tussaud was arrested by the revolution on suspicion of royalist sympathies. In prison she awaited execution by guillotine together with Joséphine de Beauharnais. Even though Tussaud's head was already shaven for her execution, she was saved for her talent in wax work and employed to make death masks of the victims of the guillotine, some of which were personal friends of hers. Among others, she made death masks of Marie Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre.

When Curtius died 1794 he left his collection of waxworks to Marie. In 1795 she married François Tussaud . They had two children, Joseph and François.

In 1802 Marie Tussaud went to London together with her first son, Joseph, then 4 years old, her second son staying behind. As a result of the Franco-English war she was unable to return to France, so with her collection she travelled throughout Great Britain and Ireland. In 1821 or 1822 her second son joined her again. She established her first permanent exhibition in Baker Street in 1835 (on the "Baker Street Bazaar")

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 aged 88 in London.

Madame Tussaud's wax museum has now grown to become one of the major tourist attraction in London, and has expanded with branches in Amsterdam, Hong Kong (Victoria Peak), Las Vegas, Copenhagen and New York City. The current management is The Tussauds Group.


  • Madame Tussaud's memoirs and reminiscences of France, by Marie Tussaud, ed. by F. Hervé, London 1838.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 13:07:03
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04