MADAME TUSSAUD: Waxworker Extraordinary by Anita & Pauline Chapman Leslie

MADAME TUSSAUD: Waxworker Extraordinary

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The 90-year, eventful life of the waxwork foundress is, unfortunately, illdocumented, and so the authors--Leslie, writer of gossipy biographies of high-ish society, and Chapman, archivist at the waxworks--have stuffed their book with wild, but ladylike, surmise, contemporary color, and some downright foggy history. Marie Grosholtz, raised and trained in the Paris household of the popular wax sculptor, Curtius, who made her his heir, spent a decade at Versailles as art tutor to Louis XVI's sister. After 1789, however, when all the leading revolutionaries dined at the Curtius table, she made a habit of discretion, which is why we know so little about her. ""She never said what she really thought about Marie Antoinette or the revolutionaries--she described what they wore!"" She was much in demand to sculpt the living, the dead, and, notoriously, the guillotined (David modeled his Marat on her death-mask). In 1802 she set out on a brief trip to London that became 32 years of non-stop, highly successful touring of the British Isles, where, in the days before illustrated papers, any likeness of the famous was in demand. It was also educational--a favorite word with the defensive authors. By the time Madame Tussaud settled in London, her excellence as an artist, her popular touch, her business acumen, and, mostly, her innate showmanship had made her an institution. But the fact that she was apparently hard as nails is an embarrassment to Leslie and Chapman, who are just bewildered by her ability to snap her fingers at shipwreck at 60, to jettison an irresponsible husband, to capitalize on necrophilia. Some fascinating tales are vitiated by a tiresome presentation.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
Publisher: Hutchinson--dist. by Merrimack Book Service (99 Main St., Salem, N.H. 03079)