History of Madame Tussauds
200 years of fame
Millions and millions of people have flocked through the doors of Madame Tussauds across the globe since they first
opened over 200 years ago and it remains just as popular as it ever was. There are many reasons for this enduring success,
but at the heart of it all is good, old-fashioned curiosity.
Today’s visitors are sent on a unique, emotionally-charged
journey through the realms of the powerful and famous. The museum-style ropes and poles have gone so guests can truly get
up, close and personal with A-list celebrities, sporting legends, political heavyweights and historical icons, reliving the
times, events and moments that made the world talk about them...
From France to Britain
The attraction’s history is a rich and fascinating one, with roots dating back to the Paris of 1770. It was here
that Madame Tussaud learnt to model wax likenesses under the tutelage of her mentor, Dr Philippe Curtius. At the age of 17,
she became art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister at the Palace Of Versailles and then, during the French Revolution,
was hastily forced to prove her allegiance to the feudalistic nobles by making the death masks of executed aristocrats. Madame
Tussaud came to Britain in the early 19th century alongside a travelling exhibition of revolutionary relics and effigies of
public heroes and rogues.
Bringing The News to Life
At a time when news was communicated largely by word of mouth, Madame Tussauds’ exhibition was a kind of travelling
newspaper, providing insight into global events and bringing the ordinary public face-to-face with the people in the headlines.
Priceless artifacts from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars brought to life events in Europe which had a direct bearing
on everyday lives. Figures of leading statesmen and, in the Chamber of Horrors, notorious villains put faces to the names
on everyone’s lips and captured the public imagination. In 1835, Madame Tussauds’ exhibition established a permanent
base in London as the Baker Street Bazaar - visitors paid ‘sixpence’ for the chance to meet the biggest names
of the day. The attraction moved to its present site in Marylebone Road come 1884.
Blending History and Celebrity
In the 20th century Madame Tussauds’ role began to change.
Thanks to the rapid growth of both popular tabloid press and public literacy, information
about current events was easily acquired. The attraction gradually, therefore, became less a source of direct news, than
a commentary on popular celebrity. It also came through some major upheavals, surviving near destruction by fire (1925), earthquake
(1931) and World War II ‘Blitz’ bombing (1940.) Today, Madame Tussauds is bigger and better than ever, combining
its diverse history with the relentless glamour, intrigue and infamy of 21st century celebrity.
Some of Madame Tussauds’ original work and earliest
relics are still on display in London, including the death masks she was forced to make during the French Revolution and the
Guillotine that beheaded Marie Antoinette. Guests can also marvel at probably the earliest example of animatronics –‘Sleeping
Beauty’, a breathing likeness of Louis XV’s sleeping mistress Madame du Barry sculpted in 1763, is the attraction’s
oldest figure on display.
And then there are the more contemporary, more interactive
stars. From Brad Pitt, with his squeezable butt, to Kate Moss, alongside whom you can pose for the cover of a glossy fashion
mag, the biggest names in entertainment, sport and politics are all dazzlingly represented; authentic down to the very last
Finger On The Pulse
Madame Tussauds continues regularly to add figures that reflect
contemporary public opinion and celebrity popularity – Bollywood kings like Shah Rukh Khan; Hollywood sirens such as
Nicole Kidman; pop idols Timberlake and Minogue. The attraction also continues to expand globally with established international
branches in New York, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Washington DC soon to be joined by new outlets in Berlin
(July 2008) and Hollywood (2009) – all with the same rich mix of interaction, authenticity and local appeal.
A visit to Madame Tussauds is essential – where else
can you savour two centuries of fame and notoriety, and tell the great and good exactly what you think of them? It’ll
be your most famous day out ever!
Early Years 1700-1800
1761: Madame Tussaud is born Marie Grosholtz in Strasbourg.
1777: Marie models the famous author and philosopher, Francois Voltaire.
1780: Marie becomes art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister and goes to live
at the Royal Court in Versailles
1789: On the eve of The French Revolution,
Marie returns to Paris
1793: Marie is imprisoned with her mother in the
notorious Laforce Prison, Paris. On her release she is forced to prove her allegiance to the Revolution by making death masks
of executed nobles and her former employers, the King and Queen.
The French Revolution ends and Marie inherits Dr Philippe Curtius’ wax exhibition.
1795: Marie marries Francois Tussaud
Touring the British Isles
1802: Madame Tussaud takes her exhibition on tour to the British
Isles, leaving behind her husband.
1835: With her sons, Madame Tussaud
establishes a base in London at ‘The Baker Street Bazaar.’
Punch Magazine coins the name Chamber Of Horrors for Madame Tussaud’s ‘Separate Room’, where gruesome relics
of the French Revolution are displayed.
1850: Madame Tussaud dies.
1884: Marie’s grandsons move the attraction to its current site on Marylebone
1925: The attraction is devastated by fire.
1928: Restoration is completed with the addition of a cinema and restaurant.
1940: Madame Tussauds is struck by a German World War II bomb destroying 352 head moulds, and the cinema.
1958: Madame Tussauds opens the Commonwealth’s first Planetarium.
Present Day Madame Tussauds continue to be a major interactive tourist attraction,
adding new wax figures almost every month and providing one of the most famous days out! There are currently nine Madame Tussauds around the globe.
Behind The Scenes
Making wax figures is a labor of love. Over 800 hours of painstaking moulding, measuring,
painting and sculpting goes into making each figure. We have a small army of highly trained wax sculptors who can replicate
a Hollywood A Lister or world leader so exactly that you’ll believe that you are face to face with a real person. You’ll
find yourself saying sorry to someone for nearly bumping into them, before realizing it’s a wax figure of Penelope Cruz
or Johnny Depp. That’s the skill of our sculptors. The big question though, is how do they do it?
Firstly, the subject is invited in for a sitting where detailed measurements and photos
are taken. If the personality is unable to come in person, or is a historical figure like Albert Einstein, the sculptor has
to work from existing photos. It’s a precise job - more than 250 precise measurements and photos are needed before work
on the figure can begin. On this page you’ll follow Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood superstar, from sitting to finished figure.
The sculptors use the measurements and photos to make a clay model of the head. Next they
make a metal skeleton of the body to which they add clay in the shape of the body. Because wax shrinks, all figures are made
2% larger than the actual celebrities they are portraying.
Moulds are then made of the head and body – the head and body are made separately.
A hot wax mixture is poured into the moulds then left to cool and harden
Once the wax is ready, it’s time for hair and make up. There is no quick way of fixing
hair onto a wax figure - each strand has to be inserted individually and the job usually takes around five weeks. Next, teeth
and eyes are added before the figure is colored using oil based paint. The paint has to be applied in layers to create a realistic
skin color and texture
Finally, hundreds of hours after the initial sitting, its show time for the finished figure
here at Madame Tussauds.
And before you ask, all celebrities’ vital statistics are kept secret! We are inundated
with requests from the public and the media but we haven’t leaked any yet. Our lips are sealed.