Madame Marie Tussaud (born Marie Gresholtz) was in some ways an unlikely entrepreneur. But she did have a talent– for the newly fashionable art of wax modelling. Born in 1761, her skill in wax modelling put her in the employ of the French royal family, and she lived for some years in the Court of Versailles.
However, her life was to be thrown off course by the French revolution of 1787, which she only narrowly survived, and as a result of which she was imprisoned until 1794.
Turning tragedy into opportunity though, Madame Tussaud (as she was named after marrying in 1795) found a grisly niche by becoming the maker of wax death masks – initially of the guillotined aristocrats.
Spotting the macabre appeal of such products, she eventually was to take a huge risk by going on tour with them overseas to England, never to see her husband again. She spent a total of 25 years on the road, and eventually established a base on Baker Street, London.
The exhibition she founded there grew as she added models of English murderers and body snatchers to the delight of enthusiastic audiences.
By the time she died in 1850, she had become immensely successful, and in 1884, her grandsons move the exhibition to Marylebone Road, where it still stands. Today however, the exhibition is somewhat less morbid, with models of celebrities, politicians and the Royal Family.