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Something interesting has happened on (just about) every day of the year, and Daily TWiP provides the proof. An offshoot of my local events column The Week in Preview (affectionately known as TWiP), Daily TWiP was published April 2008-Aug. 2011 and is still giving readers reasons to celebrate.

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Daily TWiP – Dec. 1, 1761: Famed wax sculptor Madame Tussaud born

On Dec. 1, 1761, Madame Tussaud, perhaps the world’s best-known creator of lifelike wax sculptures, was born Anna Maria Grosholtz in Strasbourg, France. Strasbourg is close to the German border, which may account for Tussaud’s not-entirely-French-sounding birth name.

Tussaud’s father died shortly before she was born, so her mother moved to Bern, Switzerland, with their infant daughter, taking a position as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius. Curtius was a physician and an accomplished wax modeler, a skill he utilized to demonstrate anatomical concepts and later, for portraiture.

Curtius taught the art of wax modeling to Tussaud. She demonstrated a great deal of talent and soon began to work for him. She created her first wax figure, French philosopher Voltaire, in 1777.

Curtius moved to Paris in 1765 in order to exhibit his wax figures, and Tussaud and her mother joined him in 1767. Tussaud’s skill earned her favor with the French royal family (she gave art lessons to the sister of Louis XVI), which made for a pleasant lifestyle until the French Revolution in 1789.

Tussaud’s royal connections almost got her the guillotine, but she was spared by the intervention of Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois. She was, however, required to show her support for the revolution by making death masks of the aristocrats and members of the royal family who had not been so fortunate.

The revolution had quieted down by 1794, which was also the year Curtius passed away, leaving Tussaud his waxworks collection. Tussaud married Francois Tussaud the following year.

Tussaud and one of her two sons brought the collection to London in 1802 for exhibition and found themselves unable to return to France (and the rest of their family) because of the Napoleonic Wars. After touring through Great Britain and Ireland with her waxworks, Tussaud settled the exhibit into a permanent home on London’s Baker Street.

Tussaud died in her sleep of natural causes on April 15, 1850, but both her museum and her wax figures have stood the test of time. In spite of a move to Marylebone Road in 1884, substantial fire damage in 1925, and bombing by the Germans in 1940, several sculptures made by Tussaud herself, including a self-portrait from 1842, still exist. A considerable number of wax figures have been added, encompassing everyone from historical figures and pop singers to famous athletes and notorious murderers.

Now known as “Madame Tussauds” (no apostrophe), the London museum continues to pique the curiosity of locals and tourists alike. Additional museums have been opened in Amsterdam, Berlin, Las Vegas, New York City, Hollywood, Washington, D.C., Shanghai and Hong Kong, and enjoy popularity similar to that of their London counterpart.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published Dec. 1, 2010.

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