Born in 1761, Marie Gresholtz, a maker of wax death masks, had modelled the author and philosopher Voltaire in 1777, and became art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister in 1780. She lived at this time with the French court at Versailles, but returned to Paris in 1789.
After the French revolution of 1787, Marie was imprisoned in LaForce prison with aristocrats and other people associated with the regime. Here she shared a cell with the future Empress Josephine (Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife).
A year after her release in 1794, Marie married Frances Tussaud.
In 1802, she took her collection of wax masks of guillotined aristocrats and relics of the French revolution on a tour of Britain. In 1835, she established a base for the collection at the Baker Street bazaar in London.
The exhibition continued to grow as Madame Tussaud added to her collection models of English murderers and body snatchers. In 1846 Punch Magazine called it a "Chamber of horrors".
Madame Tussaud died in 1850. She was 88.
In 1884, her grandsons moved the exhibition to its current site on Marylebone Road. It was largely destroyed by fire, and rebuilt in the 1920s, and today it features models of sports personalities, musicians and film stars, statesmen from around the world and even the Royal Family.