Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks

Overview

The success of Madame Tussaud’s, from its beginnings in Paris before the French Revolution to its prolonged fame as a popular tourist attraction in London, bears out the fascination of waxworks. Pamela Pilbeam sees Madame Tussaud herself and her exhibition as part of the wider history of wax modeling and of popular entertainment. Tussaud’s catered for the public’s fascination with monarchy, whether Henry VIII and his wives or Queen Victoria, as well as for their love of history, acting as an accessible and ...

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Overview

The success of Madame Tussaud’s, from its beginnings in Paris before the French Revolution to its prolonged fame as a popular tourist attraction in London, bears out the fascination of waxworks. Pamela Pilbeam sees Madame Tussaud herself and her exhibition as part of the wider history of wax modeling and of popular entertainment. Tussaud’s catered for the public’s fascination with monarchy, whether Henry VIII and his wives or Queen Victoria, as well as for their love of history, acting as an accessible and enjoyable museum, but also providing the perennial fascination of the Chamber of Horrors.

Pamela Pilbeam sees Madame Tussaud herself and her exhibition as part of the wider history of wax modelling and of popular entertainment. Tussaud's catered for the public's fascination with monarchy, whether Henry VIII and his wives or Queen Victoria, as well as for their love of history, acting as an accessible and enjoyable museum (but also providing the perennial fascination of the Chamber of Horrors).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The writing here is brisk and engaging."--Carol Herman, Washington Times
"...Pilbeam's fascinating account makes a solid argument...."--Publishers Weekly 2/24/03

Publishers Weekly
Pilbeam, a professor of French history at the University of London, traces the age-old history of waxworks, placing the story of Madame Tussaud and her eponymous wax museum at the narrative's center. (The museum still operates today with five locations on three continents, including North America.) Madame Tussaud, born Marie Grosholz in 1761, inherited her obsession for wax from Philippe Curtius, who may have been her father (her mother was his housekeeper). Curtius, who owned and operated the famed Salon de Cire in Paris, bequeathed his estate to Marie at his death. Not to be confined by her gender, she had learned from Curtius how to make models of bloodied heads fresh from the guillotine during the French Revolution. She left France in 1802, never to return-probably, according to Pilbeam, to escape a failing marriage. In Britain, Tussaud filled her museum with celebrities as well as an array of criminals and murder victims in the exhibit hall that Punch dubbed by Punch the "Chamber of Horrors." By 1851, the year after her death, Tussaud's had nearly one million visitors per year. Thoroughly researched and intricately contextualized, Pilbeam's analysis of Madame Tussaud as a character is ambivalent at best. Pilbeam is hesitant to herald her as an entrepreneur and innovator, claiming instead that her success was due primarily to business savvy and financial acumen. But Pilbeam's fascinating account makes a solid argument that waxworks provide an ideal lens for examining the popular cultures of France and Britain, and that Tussaud's, in particular, played a major role in the emergence of popular entertainment and the cult of celebrity. Illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781852852832
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
  • Publication date: 5/16/2003
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.42 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Pamela Pilbeam is the author of The Middle Classes in Europe, 1789-1914. She is Professor of French History at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations
Introduction
1 The Origins of Wax Modelling 1
2 The Wax Salon 17
3 Revolutionary Paris 37
4 The Travelling Wax Exhibition 65
5 The Baker Street Bazaar 97
6 Wax Rivals 131
7 From the Great Exhibition to the First World War 153
8 Waxworks in the Age of Film 193
9 The Appeal of Waxworks 221
Notes 245
Bibliography 265
Index 267
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