Who did Madame Tussaud’s first waxwork represent?

Madame Tussaud's famous wax museum is one of London's biggest attractions, but who was Madame Tussaud's first model and waxwork?

Madame Tussaud's exhibition at Baker Street, London. But who was her first waxwork? (Photo by Bettmann, via Getty Images)

During the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud enjoyed a lucrative, if slightly grisly, business in serving the country’s insatiable demand for the death masks of those who had died on the guillotine. King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Reign of Terror figurehead Maximilien Robespierre all became her models.

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As a royal sympathiser, Tussaud had rubbed shoulders with the elite of France before the revolution. This meant she had to become at ease with working on the heads of former friends. She had even known the king himself as she served as art tutor to his sister. Being commissioned to create these masks was seen by revolutionaries as symbolic of Tussaud’s commitment to the new republic.

Portrait of French Philosopher Voltaire
French philosopher Voltaire was Madame Tussaud’s first waxwork model. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)

She was already well known before the death mask money started rolling in. While learning the skill from Swiss modeller Philippe Curtius as a teenager, Tussaud had moved to Paris and began making wax portraits of high-society personalities. Her very first model, in 1777, was of the famed philosopher Voltaire, made a year before his death. It has not survived, unfortunately, but not many of her originals are left at all, especially after a fire at her London museum in 1925.

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This article was taken from issue 68 of BBC History Revealed magazine