Monday, July 6, 2009

Madame Tussaud

There really was a Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) and the famous wax museums are eponymous. She began life as Marie Grosholtz and learned the art of wax modelling from Swiss physician Philippe Curtius (1741-1794), for whom her widowed mother kept house, first in Bern and then in Paris. Dr. Curtius first modelled in wax to illustrate anatomy, but then applied the art to portraiture and moved to France to populate a cabinet of wax figures which many notable figures came to his house (and later to his two galleries) to see. Marie learned wax modelling from Curtius and began creating figures in 1778: French philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Voltaire (1694-1778), and American statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). During the French Revolution, Marie - who had lived at Versailles for a time, teaching art to the daughter of Louis XVI (1754-1793) - was imprisoned on suspicion of Royalist sympathies and condemned to be executed. At the last minute (her hair had already been shorn for the guillotine), she was spared because of her talent in wax work. She was employed to make death masks of the beheaded notables, many of whom were her friends. Among them was Queen Marie Antoinette (1754-1793), who was guillotined 9 months after the king. Her execution is illustrated above, as are her death mask and wax figure. Marie took the wax imprint of the queen's face as her body lay on the grass awaiting interment in a mass grave as soon as the gravediggers returned from lunch. This post was prompted by an 1886 article in the New York Times that I came across this morning: the paper reported that the buyer for Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum passed up the opportunity to purchase at auction the 4-wheeled morgue cart into which Marie Antoinette's guillotined head had dropped.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.