Anna Marie Grosholtz was born in Strasbourg on December 1, 1761. He father had been killed in the Seven Years’ War before she was born and her mother took her to Switzerland where they worked for a Dr. Philippe Curtius (1737-1794). Curtius was quite artistic and often created wax models of the human anatomy. It was the Doctor who taught little Marie the art of wax modeling.
Curtius eventually gave up his medical practice and pursued an artistic career. Marie and her mother followed him to Paris in 1767. Three years later, Marie and the Doctor opened Curtius’ Waxworks. The exhibition was extremely popular and it also brought Marie to the attention of Louis XVI. In 1780, she moved to Versailles and taught art to the King’s sister.
During the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, Marie was arrested and sentenced to death because of her ties to the royal family. She was later released thanks to a political connection of Curtius’. One condition for her pardon, however, was that she would create death masks of the victims of the guillotine. Marie was forced to create wax models of the severed heads of King Louis, Marie Antoinette, and, later, Maximilien Robespierre.
Dr. Phlippe Curtius died in 1794 and left all his waxworks to Marie. One year later, she married Francois Tussaud. The couple had two sons.
In 1802, Madame Tussaud left Paris and started a traveling exhibition. She traveled all across Europe for 36 years before opening a permanent exhibition in London’s Baker Street. In order to keep her works popular, she was constantly creating models of current celebrities.
In 1846, she put on display all the objects and figures that she had collected during the French Revolution. Part of this exhibition was a guillotine blade that had, supposedly, cut off the head of Marie Antoinette. A British magazine called the room where this display was set up the “Chamber of Horrors”.
As a matter of fact, the Chamber of Horrors was not entirely Madame Tussaud’s creation. Part of Curtius’ Waxworks had been the Caverne des Grandes Voleurs which roughly translates to the “Great Robbers Cave”. This display highlighted crimes that had recently taken place.
Madame Tussaud died peacefully on April 16, 1850. In 1884, her grandsons moved the London museum to Marylebone Road where it is still located today. Marie Tussaud’s art has survived the French Revolution, a terrible museum fire in 1925, and bombs dropped by the Germans during World War II. Some of the wax figures that she herself created can still be seen.