Madame Tussauds Museum. A place where the personalities of different eras come to life

From Jack the Ripper to Britain’s Queen.

The most famous wax museum appeared in England in the mid-19th century. Today it is one of the main attractions of London, visited by almost 2.5 million visitors a year, and since its foundation Madame Tussauds has been visited by about 500 million people.

The famous Madame Tussauds, who founded one of Britain’s most popular attractions, was not English, but French. And if it hadn’t been for an unfortunate marriage, the museum would have been the calling card of Paris, not London.

Maria Grosholz, the most successful businesswoman of the 19th century, was born in 1761 in Strasbourg. Her mother was a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius, who made anatomical copies of human bodies in wax. Young Maria, unlike her peers, had little interest in drawing and playing the piano. She was more fascinated by the work of Curtius.

The doctor, noticing the girl’s talent for sculpture, began to teach her everything he knew himself. It was at this time that wax was becoming quite popular. This material was supposed to be easier than clay. That’s why this type of sculpture was considered mostly feminine. In contrast to other fields, the public favored and trusted female craftsmen.

However, the professionalism of Dr. Curtius was undeniable. It was under his direction that the first wax exhibition in Paris was held, which was a resounding success. The doctor also had the idea of displaying figures of famous criminals and imitations of executions. Thus was born the first “room of horrors,” which later became one of the most popular attractions among museum visitors.

Inspired by the success of her teacher, Maria realized that she was ready to dedicate her life to sculpture. Already at the age of 16, the girl created a wax figure of the writer and philosopher Voltaire.

And at 19, she was invited as an art teacher to the sister of the French king Louis XVI and moved to live in Versailles.

The French Revolution brought her back to Paris. Wax figures were very popular with revolutionaries. Wax heads in particular. They were attached to mannequins and installed in Parisian salons to recall the political situation in the country. Dr. Curtius himself was far removed both from politics and from the hostilities taking place near him. So more and more often he sent Marie to remove the mask of death from the next victim of the revolution.

In 1793 the girl was arrested and imprisoned. According to various sources, she ended up there either with her mother or with Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s future wife. Nevertheless, only her talent saved her from execution.

She was the best at waxwork, so it was Marie who was invited to remove the mask of death from the revolutionary leader Robespierre and his assassin. She also made a wax replica of the head of Queen Marie Antoinette just after she was beheaded.

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A few years later, Maria married the French engineer François Tussauds. The marriage was not saved by the arrival of two sons, her husband drank and lost all his money in cards. By that time Dr. Curtius had died, leaving her a legacy of his wax figures. Maria also accumulated many sculptures of her own.

However, Madame Tussauds understood that all the money she earned from showing the figures would be immediately squandered by her husband in cards. So at the beginning of the 19th century, she left her youngest son in the care of his mother and left for Great Britain, taking her eldest.

The main attraction of her collection were the death masks. Tussaud did not invent them, but she was the first to start making money from them. The public was always interested in looking into the “face of death.” For more than 20 years she drove the wax exhibit around England and Scotland. Napoleon’s war finally put an end to Tussauds’ plans to return to France.

Mary was already 74 years old when, together with her sons, she finally decided to open a permanent exhibition in London. The Madame Tussauds opened in 1835 on the legendary Baker Street, covering 465 square metres. Armchairs were set up in the salon so that visitors could quietly gaze at the wax sculptures.

Marie Tussauds understood that the public was primarily interested in everything related to royalty and famous criminals – and a large part of the exhibit was devoted to them.

It included the coronation of George IV, Napoleon’s carriage, and a portrayal of Prince Albert’s wedding to Queen Victoria. With the Queen’s own permission, an exact replica of her wedding dress was created, which cost £1,000 ($1315).

The horror room was mainly dedicated to the French Revolution. Particular attention was paid to the life-size guillotine and the heads of executed Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre.

It also featured some of Britain’s most famous criminals, including Jack the Ripper.

One of Madame Tussauds’ important business ideas was to use original artifacts in the museum for authenticity. For example, in the horror room she installed a carriage on which the remains of victims were transported after the murders.

In 1850, Maria Tussaud died, leaving England’s most popular tourist attraction at the time to her sons. After her death, even the sarcastic magazine Punch wrote: “These days, no one can be considered popular until he or she is a figure in Madame Tussauds on Baker Street. The only way to leave a powerful, lasting impression on the public is to be made of wax.”

After her mother’s death, the business passed into the hands of her sons and grandchildren and remained a family business for a long time. Tussauds’ descendants were involved in both sculpting and running the company.

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The number of wax figures grew along with the rent of the Baker Street space. So Maria Tussauds’ grandson moved the museum to Merilibon Road. The first exhibit opened there in 1884 and was a resounding success. The Madame Tussauds Museum has been located there ever since.

Despite its popularity with the public, money was constantly in short supply. New construction and the purchase of half of the museum’s stock from Cousin Louise led to the creation of a limited liability company in 1888 to raise capital. However, family disagreements among the shareholders led to its dissolution.

In 1889 the business was sold to a group of businessmen led by Edwin Poyser. The sale of the family business finally broke up the Tussauds’ descendants. One of the grandsons, John Theodore, remained with the company, taking on two positions at once – head artist and museum manager. Legend has it that the artist Edward White sent John a bomb in retaliation for firing him from the museum in order to save money.

Unlike his brother, the sculptor Louis Joseph Tussauds left the business after the deal. He left, but in 1890 he opened his own wax museum under his own name. However, luck did not greatly accompany the new endeavor. The museum moved many times from place to place, part of the exposition was destroyed by fire.

The heir was helped to open new branches by his famous family name. Many did not notice the difference in the name. So, wax museums of Louis Tussauds appeared in Copenhagen, Florida, St. Petersburg.

But they had nothing in common with his great-grandmother’s original exhibitions. One branch of the Louis Tussauds was even called the worst wax museum in the world, because the models created were completely unlike their prototypes.

For a long time, the basis of Madame Tussauds’ exposition remained the figures made by Madame Tussauds herself. But a fire in 1925 and a bomb dropped by the Germans in 1940 destroyed 352 of the 400 models that remained.

One of the surviving pieces is a sculpture of Marie Tussauds that she created herself shortly before she died. She now greets visitors at the entrance to the museum.

It is interesting that the Room of Horrors survived the destruction almost unscathed. Most of the surviving wax figures belong to the murderers and their victims.

In 1972 the owners of the museum decided to take the risky step of opening a branch exhibition outside England – in Amsterdam.

This went against the principles of the museum, which is valued for the uniqueness and uniqueness of its exhibits and is considered a national treasure. It is also a local landmark and attracts tourists.

The unique figures, created still by the founder herself, are not the main thing for which the public visits the exhibition. Every country has its local heroes who are of interest only to their audience.

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The results of this experiment were not immediately satisfactory to the brand owners – more than 25 years passed between the appearance of the second and third branches. The next Madame Tussauds wax museum was opened only in 1999 in Las Vegas.

Today, branches can be visited in more than 20 cities around the world. In 2016, the corporation opened two new museums in Chongqing, China, and Istanbul, Turkey. The latter, according to a brand spokesman, cost about 10 million pounds ($13.5 million). The museum includes just under 60 wax figures on two floors of a two-thousand-square-meter building.

Each museum has its own collection of models, both world and national. For example, in Washington, D.C., the museum features figures of all American presidents. The only thing in common between the branches is the technique of making the figures. The craftsmen use the one invented by Maria Tussauds.

The next high-profile deal around the museum was made in 2005. The brand was bought by Dubai International Capital for $1.5 billion. Two years later, the new owners struck a deal to transfer the brand to the Blackstone Group for $1.9 billion.

The company was merged with Blackstone’s Merlin Entertainment. After the sale of the brand, Dubai International Capital received a 20% stake in Merlin Entertainment. The Tussauds Group as a separate entity ceased to exist.

Each wax figure takes on average four months to produce, about 20 artists work on it, and it costs 150 thousand pounds ($198 thousand). Nothing has changed since the days of Marie Tussauds – still masters use her techniques: wire mesh, newspaper and clay. Real hair is used to make the wig, which is inserted into the artificial scalp strand by strand.

According to the rules of the brand, no one is paid to make a wax replica. The management of the museum itself decides who to offer to be the next model. And celebrities consider it an honor to pose for the masters. For about two hours, they take more than 200 poses to be measured and filmed.

The museum’s workshops are one of the few places where even female celebrities are allowed to take their measurements. Each sculpture exceeds the real size of the person posing by 2%, as the wax melts, losing volume, and the figure comes close to the actual measurements.

It is not uncommon for stars to donate their own clothes to the museum. For example, as mayor of London, Boris Johnson, after all the measurements gave the masters his business suit, in which he posed. To this day you can still see a small cut on the pants from the bicycle, on which the politician liked to get to work.

Some stars put conditions on the use of their wax replicas. For example, Hollywood actors Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise do not allow the press to photograph their models or use any pictures of their figures for promotional purposes.

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The only person who refused to pose for Madame Tussauds was Mother Teresa. She reasoned that the time it would take her to do so could be more usefully spent.

The museum’s most controversial wax figure is a replica of Adolf Hitler. His model as Germany’s leader was first exhibited in the museum in 1933.

Since then, it has been constantly vandalized – visitors have spat on the figure, thrown eggs at it and stuck pins in its heart. Museum staff say that no other replica has been attacked to such an extent or attracted so much hatred and aggression.

In 1942, museum officials decided to put the wax figure of Hitler behind glass. The gallery staff now had to keep a close eye on the glass, which turned out to be spattered daily.

The museum staff also cautiously installed the figure of Saddam Hussein, which at first, as expected, caused scales of discontent. However, the excitement quickly died down. Unlike the copy of Hitler, which stood behind glass for 60 years, and only then was unveiled in the hall.

Another “punishment” for the figure was its location. For a long time the model was installed in the transition from the room with politicians to the horror room with murderers and criminals.

In 2008, on the opening day of Madame Tussauds in Berlin, a visitor decapitated the figure of Hitler in protest. The police apprehended the offender, who was fined. The model was repaired and put back on display in the museum. Hitler is now represented in a seated pose at a table in a bunker. The wax sculpture cannot be photographed because of its location.

The figure of Hitler is an exception – for the most part, copies of celebrities evoke positive emotions in the public. Museum staff say that at the end of the day they have to take the underwear out of the pockets of popular artists and scrub the lipstick off the faces of their favorite models.

One of the most popular figures at the London branch is the model of actor Robert Pattinson, the star of the Twilight saga.

The most visited wax figure at the London museum is still a copy of British Queen Elizabeth. Unlike most other models, she, like the rest of the royal family, can be photographed but not touched.

In 1993, Madame Tussauds opened the “Spirit of London” attraction, which allows you to see the history of the city from a legendary black cab. Small cars move through the streets of London to show the highlights of the British capital.

Despite its commitment to tradition, the museum keeps up with the times. Some wax figures can move, blush, blink and even speak. The museum responds to any change in the public’s interest, whether it’s the arrival of a new Hollywood star or a change of president.

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It’s not uncommon for figures to be sent for revision or completely updated when a prototype has done something to its own appearance. The record holder here is the singer Michael Jackson – 13 different replicas of him have been on display in the museum over the entire period.

In 2012, wax figures of characters from the “Star Wars” saga appeared in Madame Tussauds. 180 sculptors presented 11 scenes from the film, the first such large-scale experience of the brand to recreate not a particular character, but the whole story. In total, the owners of the museum spent about 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million) on this idea.

Heroes of the museum and themselves do not mind joking with their copies. In 2010 singer Ozzy Osbourne played a practical joke on New York’s Madame Tussauds. Pretending to be a wax sculpture, he frightened people who came up to him to be photographed. This action took place as part of the promotional tour of his new album Scream.

In 2015, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as “The Terminator” pranked visitors to Madame Tussauds in Hollywood to promote a charity event.

Masters of the museum say that with the growing popularity of plastic surgery and Botox, it’s getting easier for artists and sculptors to create wax doubles, of which there are already about two thousand around the world.

Few people know what happens to wax figures after their prototypes become uninteresting to visitors. Some say that such copies are sent to be melted down for new sculptures. There is a theory that there is a huge warehouse in Acton, west London, where all the scrapped “stars” are stored, just in case some of them become popular again.

In the summer of 2017, the first Madame Tussauds museum opened in India in Delhi, where 60% of the wax figures represented national celebrities and only 40% represented world celebrities. In total, Merlin Entertainment plans to spend about 50 million pounds in this region over the next ten years.

Today, Merlin Entertainment Corporation, in addition to Madame Tussauds, owns various theme parks and attractions, including Legoland in Windsor and the Ferris wheel in London. The company is the second-largest operator of entertainment venues after the Walt Disney Co. The corporation has a market value of 4.7 billion pounds.

According to the official website, the London branch of Madame Tussauds is visited by about 2.5 million guests a year. With a minimum price per ticket of 29 pounds, the corporation generates more than 75 million pounds ($99 million) annually from this alone. In 2016, the entire Merlin Entertainment group generated nearly 1.46 billion pounds ($1.92 billion) in revenue worldwide.

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