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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Marie Tussaud

b. 1761, Strasbourg, France; d. 1850, London

Marie Tussaud is best known as the founder of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. She was employed as a housekeeper by the physician Philippe Curtius, an expert in anatomical wax sculpture who taught Tussaud the art of wax modeling. She showed tremendous aptitude, creating her first wax figure, of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in 1778, as well as models of Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. An art instructor to the sister of the French king Louis XVI from 1780 to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, Tussaud narrowly escaped execution for her royalist sympathies, but her talents proved useful to the Revolutionary cause—making death masks of those who died at the guillotine, among them Marie Antoinette and Robespierre. In 1802, Tussaud went to London and then traveled through Great Britain and Ireland with her collection, establishing her first permanent exhibition space on London’s Baker Street in 1835.