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This edited article about Madame Tussaud originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.
On 26th April, 1928, crowds of people flocked to Marylebone Road, London, for the opening of a huge waxworks museum. Once past the door, they marvelled at the lifelike models of statesmen and popular actors; the Sleeping Beauty, who actually seemed to breathe in her enchanted sleep; and members of royalty who gazed back at the spectators from only a few feet away.
The founder of the waxworks died in 1850, but her work lived on, and today ‘Madame Tussaud’s’ is the most famous waxwork museum in the world.
Marie Tussaud was born in Berne, Switzerland, in 1760. When she grew up, she went to Paris to help her uncle, J. C. Curtius, a well-known wax modeller. In Curtius’s ‘Wax Cabinet’ at the Palais Royal, Marie learned the arts of moulding and tinting wax images so that they appeared almost lifelike. The sculptor realised that his niece had even more skill than he. Her works became the sensation of Paris.
When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, the revolutionaries forced Marie and her uncle to undertake the heartbreaking work of modelling the heads of the victims of the guillotine. Many of these unfortunate aristocrats had visited their displays.
In 1802, Marie Tussaud came to London where she opened her first waxworks at the Lyceum. As well as her famous models, she had managed to obtain historical relics of great interest, such as Henry IV’s shirt and Napoleon’s carriage.
In 1884, the waxworks moved to Marylebone Road, but much of the priceless collection was destroyed by fire in 1925. Three years later the exhibition was re-opened, and has been one of the great attractions of London ever since.