Marie Tussaud

John Florens | Apr 22, 2023

Table of Content


Marie Tussaud, born Marie Grosholtz on December 1, 1761 in Strasbourg and died on April 16, 1850 in London at the age of 88, is a French sculptor and the creator of the wax museum Madame Tussauds that she opened in London at the age of 74 years.

Madame Tussaud lived with a Swiss doctor-sculptor who taught her the art of modeling wax. Gifted and passionate, she created effigies of personalities of the time, such as Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin or Jean-Jacques Rousseau and lived at the court of the king in Versailles. The Revolution allowed her to expand her talents with the creation of death masks of executed celebrities. When she went into exile in Great Britain, the effigies of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were prized by the English public.

Marie Grosholtz (sometimes written Grossholtz or Großholtz) was born in Strasbourg in 1761 to a soldier father, Joseph Grosholtz, from Frankfurt, who was killed during the Seven Years' War, two months before Marie was born. Her mother Anne Marie Walder had to leave the family home to become a maid in Bern for Dr. Philippe Curtius (1741-1794). The latter was a physicist, physician and also a wax sculptor, a technique he used mainly to illustrate anatomy. He later began to paint portraits. The absence of her father and his presence in the house of Dr. Curtius made Marie consider him as "her uncle".

In 1765, Philippe Curtius moved to Paris to set up a wax portrait studio and left Marie and her mother in Bern. He made a portrait of Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV. This portrait is the oldest model still on display.

In 1767, Philippe Curtius brings Marie and her mother to Paris. In 1770, he exhibited his waxworks for the first time and the exhibition attracted a large crowd. The exhibition was moved to the Palais-Royal in 1776. Philippe Curtius teaches Marie the art of wax modelling and makes her work for him. She shows a certain talent. Her first realization is the face of François Marie Arouet (known as Voltaire), in 1777. She also realized the face of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in 1778 and at the same time the portrait of Benjamin Franklin.

In 1782, Philippe Curtius exhibited busts of personalities on Boulevard du Temple. The exhibition includes a Caverne des Grands Voleurs, which presents sculptures of criminals whose bodies Philippe Curtius recovered after their execution in order to create their portrait. Marie Tussaud later used this idea to create her Chamber of Horrors.

Soon after, Paris is caught up in the tumult of the French Revolution. Marie participated in her own way. During this period, she painted many of her most famous portraits, including Napoleon and Robespierre. According to her embellished Memoirs, she was on very good terms with the royalty and in particular from 1780 to 1788, she would have taught the arts to the sister of Louis XVI. According to her, her presence was so appreciated that she lived in Versailles for eight years.

On July 12, 1789, the heads of Necker and Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, made by Curtius, were carried in front of a revolutionary procession two days before the Revolution.

Marie Tussaud recounts in her fictionalized memoirs that she was arrested by the revolutionaries, denounced by a rival, Jacques Dutruy, grimace maker and executioner's assistant to Sanson. She claims to have waited to be guillotined in the same prison cell as Josephine de Beauharnais. While her head was already shaved for her execution, she was freed, thanks to the intervention of the painter David, because of her talents in sculpture (mainly in wax) and then employed to make death masks for the victims of the guillotine, some of them being her friends. She made the masks of Marie-Antoinette, Marat, and Robespierre.

In 1794, upon his death, Philippe Curtius bequeathed his collection of waxworks to Marie. The following year, on October 28, 1795 in Paris, she married François Tussaud, a civil engineer from Macon, and gave birth to three children: a stillborn girl and two boys, Joseph (1798-) and François.

In 1802, following the peace of Amiens ending the Second Coalition, Marie was invited to London by the salon magician Paul Philidor, initiator of phantasmagoria shows with magic lanterns, who made her sign a partnership contract. She leaves her husband and travels to the British capital with her four-year-old son Joseph to present her portrait collection throughout Great Britain and Ireland, but lives on a shoestring, with half of her profits going to Paul Philidor. During her journey, the Third Coalition prevented her from returning to France, so she continued her traveling wax museum show alone throughout the British Isles. Her works on the theme of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror are exhibited in publicly accessible rooms in the cities she travels through. She accompanies her exhibitions with information catalogs about the people represented, and produces publicity materials such as leaflets and advertisements in local newspapers.

Her exhibitions attracted many visitors, which allowed Marie Tussaud to send money to her husband and son in France. Unfortunately, her husband was a big spender and was forced to sell part of the collection of wax sculptures that remained in Paris.

In October 1822, Marie Tussaud's second son, François, joined his mother when she and her eldest son thought he had drowned while attempting to cross the English Channel five years earlier. François Tussaud is a carpenter and now makes the wooden arms and legs of his mother's figures.

In 1835, Marie Tussauds, then 74 years old and tired of her itinerant life, set up her first permanent exhibition in a rented room in Baker Street, named Baker Street Bazaar, the wax museum that would become Madame Tussauds. One of the main attractions is the Chamber of Horrors (en), which presents in two parts the victims of the French Revolution and the murderers. In 1838, she made the portrait of Queen Victoria, on the occasion of her coronation, which made the museum a fashionable place.

In 1838, concerned about her social respectability, she wrote her highly romanticized memoirs: she gave her father a distinguished origin whereas he came from a line of executioners and executioners officiating in Strasbourg, a profession tainted with infamy and a victim of popular ostracism. In 1842, she made a self-portrait that can still be seen at the entrance of the museum, which still has some sculptures made by Marie herself.

In 1850, she died in her London home while sleeping at the age of 88. A plaque in honor of "Madame Marie Tussaud" is located on the right side of the nave of St. Mary's Church on Cadogan Street in London, and lists the date of her death as April 15, 1850.

His sons and grandchildren took over the family business. In 1884, Joseph Tussaud, her grandson, moved the collection to a new location on Marylebone Road, but a fire in 1925 and bombings during World War II destroyed much of Marie Tussaud's original work.

Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum has become a major tourist attraction in London and has expanded its activities with the creation of museums in Amsterdam, Hong Kong (Victoria Peak), Las Vegas, Copenhagen and New York.

In 2016, the London museum's Chamber of Horrors was closed due to visitor complaints.

The museum and the Tussauds Group became the property of Merlin Entertainments on March 6, 2007.


  1. Marie Tussaud
  2. Marie Tussaud
  3. a b c d e f g h et i @NatGeoFrance, « Comment Madame Tussaud a érigé son empire de cire », sur National Geographic, 19 octobre 2018 (consulté le 20 avril 2021)
  4. (en) Pauline Chapman, Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, Constable, 1984, p. 27.
  5. (en) Pamela Pilbeam, Madame Tussaud, A&C Black, 2006, p. 60.
  6. (en) Pamela Pilbeam, Madame Tussaud, A&C Black, 2006, p. 63.
  7. ^ Tussaud, John Theodore (1921). The Romance of Madame Tussaud's (2nd ed.). First published 1858. London: Odhams Press Limited. Retrieved 18 May 2022.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  8. ^ Pilbeam 2006, p. 17.
  9. «Marie Tussaud | French modeler». Encyclopædia Britannica (em inglês)
  10. «"Tussaud, Anna Maria (bap. 1761, d. 1850)"». Encyclopædia Britannica (em inglês). Consultado em 25 de setembro de 2017. Arquivado do original em 25 de setembro de 2017
  11. a b «England - Madame Tussauds». 13 de dezembro de 2011. Consultado em 25 de setembro de 2017
  12. Enciclopedia Británica (11ªedición, 1910-1911). Prensa de la Universidad de Cambridge, ed. Marie Tussaud.
  13. a b «La sangrienta historia del museo de cera de Madame Tussaud y sus creaciones misteriosas». 21 de febrero de 2015. Archivado desde el original el 18 de septiembre de 2016. Consultado el 17 de septiembre de 2016.

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