The Allure of Wax Museums
The public is captivated by the life-like figures Madame Tussaud Museums have skillfully set about in her displays. Her figures are so real the public loves taking selfies with them. Wax modeling was viral in medieval Europe and used in funeral processions saints in the churches. Today, the Tussaud Museums are found in 24 countries worldwide, and seven museums are located in the United States. The largest of her museums is located in London.
Madame Tussaud was born in 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Some sources say she was descended from a family of public executioners, but this is not documented. Her mother worked as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius, and Madame was her adopted uncle. Curtius began making anatomical figures for his medical practice. They were so lifelike his reputation grew, and he turned away from medicine to entertainment, and he decided to move to Paris. Soon afterward, Madame and her mother followed him to Paris.
Philippe opened his shop, Cabinet de Cire, in 1870, and later, he opened his Caverne des Grands (Cave of Great Thieves). By now, Madame was creating her first wax figure, and at the age of 16, she created Voltaire and then one of Ben Franklin. Madame and Curtius were very popular with the French royalty, and she began teaching the art to Louis XVI's sister, Elizabeth. The French Revolution was in full swing, and Madame was so enamored with royalty she was arrested and thrown in prison. Her head was shaved in preparation for her execution when Curtius stepped in to get her released. She was to be released, but only on the stipulation, she makes wax molds of those beheaded heads, which included King Louis and Marie Antoinette, among others.
Madame Inherits The Museums of Curtius
In 1794, Philippe died, leaving all his wax figures, molds, and business to Madame.
At this time, she married Francois Tussaud and had two sons. Five years later, when it was possible to leave France, she took her waxworks on tour, and for the next thirty years, she toured Britain, but the burden of traveling and packing her figures and setting up displays took a toll on her. She decided to return to London and set up shop on Baker Street in 1835. Madame knew how to combine glitz, glamour, and history to appeal to the public. She also realized the public was attracted to gore and criminal figures, and she included those figures.
Originally, the London museum had 400 figures, but a fire in 1925 destroyed most of them and the bombings of WWII. Fortunately, the molds survived, and she would recreate the figures. The oldest figure in the London Museum is of Madame du Barry, done by Curtius himself. The smallest figure is of Tinker Bell.
Making a Wax Figure
The making of a wax figure is time-consuming and expensive. It takes twenty artists and months to create just one figure. Over 250 measurements will be taken, and hundreds of photos. A cast will be made in wax, and this takes 170 hours. To align the hair, some 100,000 pieces of hair must be individually inserted in the head, taking about six weeks to complete. The eyes are made of acrylic resin and painted to match the celebrity. The teeth will take an additional 30 hours to complete. For authenticity, the clothing is donated by the celebrity.
The wax figure of Sleeping Beauty has a mechanical device in her chest to make it appear she is sleeping. Queen Elizabeth II's wax figure was done for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. All of the figures in the Madame Tussaud's Museums are so lifelike that visitors take hundreds of selfies. There are no barriers around the figures as it allows for pictures.
Many, many celebrities, sports figures, music legends, and royalty are on display.
Other Notable Wax Museums
Some other wax museums:
- National Presidential Wax Museum, Keystone, S. Dakota
- Potters Wax Museum, St. Augustine, Florida
- Biblewalk Wax Museum, Mansfield, Ohio
- The National Black Wax Museum, Baltimore, Maryland
- House of Frankenstein, Las Vegas, Nevada
- Fisherman's Wax Museum, San Francisco, Ca
- Salem Wax Museum, Salem, Mass
- Mussee Wax Museum, New Orleans, La
Today, Madame Tussaud is owned by Merlin Entertainment, who purchased it in May 2007. There are 24 world-wide Tussaud museums located in Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, Prague, Istanbul, Singapore, Tokyo, Sidney, Hong Kong, China, New Delhi, and Bangkok.
In the United States, Tussaud museums can be found in New York, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Nashville, Orlando, and San Francisco.
Madame died in her sleep in 1850 and is buried in St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery, Chelsa, London. She became a legend like no other in her wax figures.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 03, 2020:
Alicia, thank you for your visit. I hope you are able to visit again.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 02, 2020:
I went to Madame Tussauds in London when I was a child. I don't remember much about the visit, except for the fact that I was impressed by the models. Thank you for sharing the interesting information about Madam Tussaud's life.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2020:
I have not been to this wax museum but visited one elsewhere. For some reason, I find them to be kind of creepy.
Liz Westwood from UK on December 02, 2020:
We have been twice to Madame Tussauds in London, many years apart. Both occasions were very enjoyable as the figures had changed in keeping with the celebrities and newsworthy figures of the day.