Maybe you weren’t fooled, but when I first saw the shot below on the photo agency site, Pacific Coast News, I was for a second. Yes, it’s a wax figure of Benedict Cumberbatch that was just unveiled in London at Madame Tussaud’s. It made me curious about the 200 year-old museum. There’s been one in New York and Vegas since 2000 and ones opened in DC in 2007 and Hollywood in 2009, which is just up the street from World of Wonder’s world headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard.
In 1770 Madame Tussaud learned to model wax likenesses and at 17 she became the art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister at the Palace of Versailles. During the French Revolution, she was forced to prove her allegiance to the nobles by making death masks of executed aristocrats. Madame Tussaud came to England in the early 19th century with a travelling exhibition of revolutionary relics and images of public heroes and rogues. Remember, there was no photography or film, only painting at this point, so this was cutting edge technology, wax figures. Likenesses of statesmen and, in the Chamber of Horrors, notorious villains made it all come to life and captured the public imagination. In 1835, Madame Tussauds’ exhibition established a permanent base in London as the Baker Street Bazaar- visitors paid ‘sixpence’ for the chance to meet the biggest names of the day. It moved to its present site in Marylebone Road come 1884. Besides London and Orlando in the US, there are a dozen plus locations in Europe and Asia. It takes over 800 hours to complete a likeness and most of the stars of the day cooperate and are painstakingly measured.
I guess maybe that’s why the newer ones of living celebrities look SO much more realistic, like Ben here. But the movie star versions are least fascinating ones, to me. Give me the death masks of the revolution. I actually own a wax bust, which is inset here. She is from a famous French wax maker, P. Imans, and was supposed to be a wig/ model for a chic Parisian store. I bought her for about $1700 at the Armory antiques fair in New York about 15 years ago and I think she’s fairly rare, but you can Google “P.Imans” and see the maker’s handiwork. She has glass eyes and eye lashes and I usually give her correspondingly festive holiday head gear. She’s getting a mask affixed right now…
(Photos, Pacific Coast News)