Madame Tussaud's Waxworks in London
The making of life-size wax figures wearing real clothes grew out of the funeral practices of European royalty. In the Middle Ages it was the habit to carry the corpse, fully dressed, on top of the coffin at royal funerals, but this sometimes had unfortunate consequences in hot weather, and the custom of making an effigy in wax for this role grew, again wearing actual clothes so that only the head and hands needed wax models. After the funeral these were often displayed by the tomb or elsewhere in the church, and became a popular attraction for visitors, which it was often necessary to pay to view. The museum of Westminster Abbey in London has a collection of British royal wax effigies going back to that of Edward III of England (died 1377), as well as those of figures such as the naval hero Horatio Nelson, and Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond, who also had her parrot stuffed and displayed. From the funeral of Charles II in 1680 they were no longer placed on the coffin but were still made for later display. The effigy of Charles II, open-eyed and standing, was displayed over his tomb until the early 19th century, when all the Westminster effigies were removed from the abbey itself. Nelson's effigy was a pure tourist attraction, commissioned the year after his death in 1805, and his burial not in the Abbey but in St Paul's Cathedral after a government decision that major public figures should in future be buried there. Concerned for their revenue from visitors, the Abbey decided it needed a rival attraction for admirers of Nelson. In European courts including that of France the making of posed wax figures became popular. Antoine Benoist (1632–1717) was a French court painter and sculptor in wax to King Louis XIV. He exhibited forty-three wax figures of the French Royal Circle at his residence in Paris. Thereafter, the king authorized the figurines to be shown throughout France. His work became so highly regarded that James II of England invited him to visit England in 1684. There he executed works of the English king and members of his court. A seated figure of Peter the Great of Russia survives, made by an Italian artist, after the Tsar was impressed by the figures he saw at the Chateau of Versailles. The Danish court painter Johann Salomon Wahl executed figures of the Danish king and queen in about 1740. The 'Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England', a museum or exhibition of 140 life-size figures, some apparently with clockwork moving parts, opened by Mrs Mary in Fleet Street in London was doing excellent business in 1711. Philippe Curtius, waxwork modeller to the French court, opened his Cabinet de Cire as a tourist attraction in Paris in 1770, which remained open until 1802. In 1783 this added a Caverne des Grandes Voleurs ("Cave of the Great Thieves"), an early "Chamber of Horrors". He bequeathed his collection to his protegé Marie Tussaud, who during the French Revolution made death masks of the executed royals. Later she would bring her collection and expertise to London and open one of the most successful waxworks in history. Tussaud created her first wax sculpture, of Voltaire, in 1777. Other famous people she modelled at that time include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin. In 1802 she went to London, having accepted an invitation from Paul Philidor, a magic lantern and phantasmagoria pioneer, to exhibit her work alongside his show at the Lyceum Theatre, London. She did not fare particularly well financially, with Philidor taking half of her profits. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, she was unable to return to France, so she traveled throughout Great Britain and Ireland exhibiting her collection. From 1831 she took a series of short leases on the upper floor of "Baker Street Bazaar" (on the west side of Baker Street, Dorset Street and King Street). This became Tussaud's first permanent home in 1836. One of the main attractions of her museum was the Chamber of Horrors. Chamber of Horrors The name 'Chamber of Horrors' is often credited to a contributor to Punch in 1845, but Marie Tussaud appears to have originated it herself, using it in advertising as early as 1843. Visitors were charged an extra sixpence to enter the 'Separate Room'. This part of the exhibition is in the basement of the building and includes wax heads made from the death masks of victims of the French Revolution including Marat, Robespierre, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were modeled by Marie Tussaud herself at the time of their deaths or execution, and more recent figures of murderers and other notorious criminals. Other famous people were added to the exhibition, including Horatio Nelson, and Sir Walter Scott. Some of the sculptures done by Marie Tussaud herself still exist. The gallery originally contained some 400 different figures, but fire damage in 1925, coupled with German bombs in 1941, has rendered most of these older models defunct. The casts themselves have survived (allowing the historical waxworks to be remade), and these can be seen in the museum's history exhibit. The oldest figure on display is that of Madame du Barry. Other faces from the time of Tussaud include Robespierre and George III. In 1842, she made a self portrait which is now on display at the entrance of her museum. She died in her sleep on 15 April 1850. By 1883 the restricted space and rising cost of the Baker Street site prompted her grandson (Joseph Randall) to commission the building at its current location on Marylebone Road. The new exhibition galleries were opened on 14 July 1884 and were a great success. Madame Tussaud's wax museum has now grown to become a major tourist attraction in London. It has expanded and will expand with branches in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Berlin, Blackpool, Hollywood, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, New York City, Shanghai, Sydney, Vienna, Washington, D.C., Wuhan, Tokyo and a temporary museum in Busan (Korea) with locations coming to Beijing, Prague, Singapore, Orlando and San Francisco. Today's wax figures at Tussauds include historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and famous murderers. Known as "Madame Tussauds" museums (no apostrophe), they are owned by a leisure company called Merlin Entertainments, following the acquisition of The Tussauds Group in May 2007.
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