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NATHALIE'S PORTRAIT *

Madame Tussaud
Waxwork exhibition in London


We have a look at the important stages of the 18th century and follow the trail of a famous lady, Madame Tussaud. Her waxworks collection with its fascinating three-dimensional rendering of famous and infamous figures has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Great Britain. Madame Tussaud's has been visited by over 200 million visitors since it began 200 years ago. Currently, over 2.5 million people a year visit the museum, mingling with celebrities of all types, from sports heroes like Muhammad Ali to Hollywod celebrities like Marilyn Monroe or Arnold Schwarzenegger to models like Naomi Campbell, musiciens like the Beatles and politicians like Bill Clinton.

The exhibition
The curtain rises and welcome to the biggest society party in the world. You won't find such a happy gathering of celebrities from television, sport, politics, business and film anywhere in the world. The collection is constantly updated and new, contemporary superstars added. Most of the VIPs model for the figures themselves and often provide clothes from their own wardrobe. Madame Tussaud herself was actually just as interesting as her exhibition. She was born Marie Grosholz in Strasbourg in 1761, later moving to Bern in Switzerland where her widowed mother worked as a maid for a certain Dr. Curtius - a doctor who was extremely talented at making wax models of anatomical subjects.

Sleeping Beauty was one of Marie's first figures and it has remained unscathed to this day. Marie quickly learned how to make the models in the surgery of Dr. Curtius. Later she moved with the family to Paris . The development of Marie's work can be admired in the permanent exhibition: 200 YEARS of Madame Tussaud's”.

The French Revolution was brewing. Writers - such as Voltaire - philosophers and revolutionaries were in the limelight. Dr. Curtius' home became the meeting place of great thinkers of the day and politicians and he used it to house a waxwork exhibition which was even visited by members of the royal family. In 1789 Paris became the centre of the revolution. Marie was imprisoned and it was many years before she was released - only then to be forced to make the death masks of her former friends after they had been guillotined. These included Marie- Antoinette, Louis XVI and many other famous people of the day.

The CHAMBER OF HORRORS, with its gruesomely realistic reconstruction of the little streets and passageways, is a macabre reminder of the French Revolution to Victorian London with its torture and killings.... It brings 500 years of crime and punishment to life with authentic sound and visual effects.

In 1794 Marie inherited Dr. Curtius's business and shortly afterwards married the Frenchman Francois Tussaud. She died in 1826, but her name has remained a synonym for quality. When superstar Michael Jackson visited the exhibition during his world tour in 1988, he was as enthusiastic about his wax figure as were his fans who jammed the streets in front of Madame Tussaud's to try to see his double. The then English prime minister, John Major, also took the time to sit as a model for Madame Tussaud shortly after he was elected and Tony Blair did the same. Very few people need to be asked twice. After all, who wouldn't want to be immortalised in such a select club?

The GARDEN PARTY provides an English country garden setting to mingle with stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, cheeky designer Jean Paul Gaultier and Hollywood tough guy Samuel L. Jackson. SPORTING LEGENDS allows you to get up close and personal with some of the greatest sports heroes like ice skating champions Torvill and Dean, gymnast Olga Korbut and track star Daley Thompson. HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS AND SUPERSTARS captures Hollywood silver screen idols like Marlon Brando to current mega stars like Sly Stalloe. The GRAND HALL brings together the world's great politicians, statesmen and artists of modern and ancient times in sumptuous surroundings that rival the most awesome stately home. The good, the bad and the ugly are all here, from Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela to Saddam Hussein. The SPIRIT OF LONDON whisks visitors through a spectacular time ride through 400 years of London life from the Great Fire to Wren's London to the swinging sixties. TUSSAUD'S LONDON PLANETARIUM moves visitors through an inter-galactic trek across the universe. In the Space Station areas, the mysteries of the cosmos unfold with interactive demonstrations, displays and scale models. In the famous domed auditorium, the world leading Digitar II star projector presents the wonders of the galaxy.

Behind the scenes
It takes six months to make a figure - Jerry Hall, top model and ex-wife of rock singer, Mick Jagger, was able to find this out for herself. The biggest amount of time is for copying the head. Although exact measurements are made, enormous skill is needed to create a realistic portrait. The hair is modelled at the same tim e then later replaced with real hair. The clay body - as for magician David Copperfield - is modelled in 12 individual steps on a steel and wire frame until the final figure is put together.

A sculptor explains that the person to be modelled is photographed from all angles. So the sculptor can understand the personality of a sumo wrestler for example, the “model” should ideally assume the expression he uses when trying to unnerve his opponent before the fight.

Artist
"It takes six months, hundreds of precise measurements, 2,400 lbs of wax and $45,000 to make each of Madame Tussaud's wax portraits. Before modern times when news was communicated largely by word of mouth, Madame Tussaud's exhibition was a kind of traveling newspaper providing an insight into international events and bringing people face to face with people in the headlines."

After careful cleaning the warm plaster mould is filled with melted wax. The parts of the body which will be clothed are cast in fibreglass. The plaster is removed from the model, so that the wax can cool slowly. The eyes are then added and painted to match the real eye colour. Human hair of a similar structure is threaded into the scalp strand by strand with a special tool, then cut and styled.

Computer-operated figures which move, appear to breathe and even speak revolutionised creativity and construction methods. In the last section of the Madame Tussaud's exhibition, “The spirit of London ”, there is a large collection of these lifelike figures, animated with optical and acoustic special effects.

Where and when
Madame Tussaud's is located on Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LR. It is open all year except Christmas Day from 10 a.m. during the week and from 9:30 a.m. weekends and during school holidays. Last admission is 5:30 p.m. Prices: Combined Madame Tussaud's and Tussaud's London Planetarium tickets: Adults 13.45 Pounds, children (under 16) 9.00 Pounds. Tel: ++44-870 400 3000.

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* This special feature "Madame Tussaud" has been one of more than 300 Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for Nathalies-Lifestyle.com © 1990 - 2004. The reproduction or other use of any text, photographs, layout etc. needs the prior written permission of the Chief Publisher.


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