Anne-Marie “Marie” Grosholtz, better known as Madame Tussaud, was born on December 1, 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Her father died before she was born and her mother, Anne-Marie Walder went to work as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius in Bern. Curtius was a physician and a wax sculptor. When Marie was young, Curtius began to focus more on wax portraits, eventually moving to Paris to exhibit and taking Marie and her mother with him. He taught Marie his techniques and she began to work with him as an artist, creating her first figure, one of Voltaire in 1777.
By the time of the French Revolution, Marie had made a name for herself, creating some of her most famous works. Her involvement in the Revolution led to her arrest with Joséphine de Beauharnais during the Reign of Terror. Thanks to her family’s friendship with Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois, a member of the Committee of Public Safety, her life was spared and she was released.
In 1794, Curtius died leaving his collection to Marie, and in 1795 she married François Tussaud. The couple had two children, Joseph and François. Joseph, aged four, traveled with Marie in 1802 to London to exhibit her collection for the first time outside of France. During the Napoleonic Wars, she traveled throughout Britain and Ireland giving exhibitions and in 1835 established her first permanent exhibition in London on Baker Street. François also joined her in Britain and eventually became the chief artist of the exhibition, followed by his son and then his grandson. Marie died on April 16, 1850 in London at the age of 88.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum has become a major tourist attraction in London as well in other cities throughout the world, such as Amsterdam, Bangkok, Sydney, and Washington DC. It is currently owned by Merlin Entertainments Group.
Find out what else happened on December 1 in Women’s History.