Biography

Madame Tussauds: over 200 years of fame

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 artefacts from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars brought to vividly 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 populartabloid 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 bum, 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 eye lash….

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 recently joined by a new outlet in Berlin (July 2008) and soon to welcome one in 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.