The History of Madame Tussauds - Early Years

Early Years

Madame Marie Tussaud is born as Anna Maria Grosholtz in Strasbourg, France. Marie’s father had passed away before she was born and her mother went to work for physician and brilliant wax modeller, Dr. Philippe Curtius in Switzerland

The young Marie joins Curtius, who has established himself as a wax sculptor in Paris. Noting her artistic talent, he trains her in the skills of wax modelling

Curtius’ ‘Salon de Cire’ is the must-see attraction in Paris. His ‘Caverne des Grands Voleurs’ featuring macabre material pre-empts the Chamber of Horrors

Curtius’ exhibition attracts visitors from all nations, including royalty, and reflects contemporary events. At the age of 17, Marie models a wax figure of Voltaire from a sitting in Paris. In 1780 Marie is invited to be the art tutor to the royal household at Versailles where she glimpses opulence and splendour

Marie models Benjamin Franklin and gives this description of him in her memoirs: “… the frankness of his air, the wisdom of his observations, and the correctness of his conduct, made a most forcible impression upon the reflecting portion of the Parisians”

Marie models figures of the French Royal Family - Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Madame Royal and the Dauphin

The French Revolution begins. Revolutionaries demand the wax heads of the Duke of Orleans and Necker (the people’s heroes) from Marie and Curtius to parade in peaceful protest, however the parade turns violent when the King’s troops panic and open fire. On July 14, decapitated heads of French Governors are taken to the ‘Salon de Cire’. The courageous Marie makes death masks from the heads rather than risk the mob wrecking the exhibition if she refuses

On January 21, Marie is commanded to make a death mask from the guillotined head of King Louis XVI and in October of that year, a death mask of Marie Antoinette. Marie also goes to sketch the Queen’s execution and faints

During the French Revolution Marie is imprisoned but, again, her sculpting skills save her from the guillotine and she is released in time to make Robespierre’s death mask. Curtius dies bequeathing the entire Paris exhibition to Marie

Marie marries Francois Tussaud who gives her little besides two sons, Joseph (b.1798) and Francis (b.1800) and a name destined for fame

Marie has a sitting with Napoleon. As Marie takes the life cast of his face she asks him not to be alarmed - he replies “Alarmed! I should not be alarmed if you were to surround my head with loaded pistols!”

Establishing the attraction on Baker Street