Madame Tussauds (without an apostrophe) is a popular attraction with sites throughout the world that include not only the United States and Great Britain but also India, Japan, Pakistan, China, and the United Arab Emirates. The originator of this world-wide legacy, was a vivacious, talkative, and determined woman named Marie Tussaud. Besides being feisty, creative, and motivated into her eighties, there are eleven other tidbits about the wax sculptor Madame Tussaud that you may not know:
Tidbit #1. Madame Tussaud was born Anne-Marie Grosholtz (sometimes spelled Gresholtz) in Strasbourg, France, on 1 December, and her baptismal record is dated 7 December 1761. She learned her wax modelling skills from Philippe Mathé Curtius. Curtius was a doctor who began to create miniature anatomically correct flesh-tinted models from wax for anatomical study. Marie’s mother worked as a housekeeper for him and Marie called him uncle (although he may have been her father). He mentored her in the art of wax modelling, and when he died, he left his estate to her. Continue reading →
Marie Antoinette loved hot chocolate, towering hairdos, and flowers. She also loved the small château called Petit Trianon that Louis XVI gave after he became King. It was Marie Antoinette’s retreat where she could ramble through pathways dressed in muslin gowns and floppy hats and pretend she was a commoner. She could also visit the Hameau de la Reine (The Queen’s Hamlet) near Petit Trianon with its rustic gardens, dairy, and functional farm. Yet, despite all these things that Marie Antoinette loved, there were at least five people at court that she disliked (or despised). These five people included Anne d’Arpajon, Madame du Barry, Jacques Necker, Madame de Genlis, and the famous general of the American Revolution Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Continue reading →
Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière and his wife, Madame Roland, were supporters of the French Revolution. In addition, Jean-Marie was also an influential member of a loose political faction called the Girondins. When the Girondins fell in 1793 during the Reign of Terror, Jean-Marie went into hiding in Rouen with two spinster sisters, the mademoiselles Malortie. The spinsters were sisters to his previous fiancée, who died unexpectedly.
While Jean-Marie was in hiding, Madame Roland was arrested, as were other Girondins and Girondin supporters. She was imprisoned at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Près that had inscribed over its door, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!” This was also the spot where a wave of killings, called the September Massacres, had taken place between the 2nd and 7th of September in 1792. Continue reading →
Marie Antoinette’s cabinetmaker, or ébéniste in French, was Jean-Henri Riesener. He was born in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany, on 4 July 1734 and moved to Paris in 1754. In Paris, he became apprenticed to another cabinetmaker named Jean-François Oeben, Oeben was the man who worked extensively for Louis XV’s mistress, Madame Pompadour, and he was the maternal grandfather of the painter Eugène Delacroix. Riesener also later married Oeben’s widow after Oeben died in 1763.
In January of 1768, Riesener received the title of master ébéniste. The following year he began supplying furniture to the Crown, and, in July 1774, he formally became ébéniste ordinaire du roi, “the greatest Parisian ébéniste of the Louis XVI period.” The Chateau de Versailles describes Riesener’s extraordinary abilities in glowing terms: Continue reading →
Although Napoleon liked many things, such as giving people nicknames, there were several things and people he disliked (or hated). He hated anyone who was weak and he hated it when other European countries fought against him for power. There were also seven other things that he disliked or hated. They were Great Britain, Madame de Staël, bad books, cats, dogs, Kashmir shawls, and Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Napoleon hated Great Britain as much as the British feared him. Because of their fear, the British meddled in French affairs and that caused Napoleon to consider the British a constant thorn in his side. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), he battled a fluctuating array of European powers that formed into various coalitions, and were financed and usually led by Great Britain. Napoleon wanted to destroy the British and hoped to replace their empire with French influence. Even after he was forced to abdicate and the victors sent him to Elba, he still felt superior to the British. When he escaped Elba and before the Battle of Waterloo, he declared: Continue reading →
Despite Rosalie Duthé being considered the first dumb blonde, she attracted the attention of some of the most distinguished men in Europe and France, including monarchs and future monarchs. This attraction also resulted in her becoming one of the most celebrated courtesans of her time. A nineteenth century writer noted that Duthé’s fame “equalled the renown of the Laises or Phrynes of ancient Greece, or that of the Imperias and Marozias of the Rome of the Middle Ages,” and although a twenty-first century writer agreed, she described Duthé as
“[A] famously vacuous creature who had taken the polite conventions of feminine modesty to an extreme. She had developed a habit of long pregnant silences. Perhaps she had nothing to say, but her mystery and her secretive allure, combined with a number of other more tangible attributes, meant that she gathered appreciative customers from the highest social and political ranks.”
Mathematician extraordinaire Sophie Germain was born on 1 April 1776 in Paris, France, to a wealthy silk merchant (or perhaps a goldsmith) named Ambroise-François Germain and a woman named Marie-Madeline Gruguelu. Thirteen years later, in 1789, the French Revolution broke out, and it was during this time that Sophie became interested in mathematics.
Her interest in mathematics began after her parents confined her to her home. That was because there were many revolts and a lot of danger when outside. Stuck indoors, Sophie began to explore her father’s library and one day found a book about the legend of Archimedes’s death. According to legend, when Roman soldiers invaded Archimedes’s city, he was “so engrossed in the study of a geometric figure in the sand that he failed to respond to the questioning of a Roman soldier. As a result he was speared to death.”* Archimedes’s story so impressed Sophie, she decided mathematics must be a very interesting subject and immediately began devoting herself to its study. Continue reading →
François-René, Viscount of Chateaubriand was born on 4 September 1768 in Saint-Malo, France. He was the youngest of ten children. His father was René de Chateaubriand, a sea captain, turned ship owner, and slave trader. René was an eccentric, taciturn, uncommunicative, despotic, and ill-tempered person. He inspired fear in his family and was as harsh to them as he was haughty to nobles.
Chateaubriand’s mother was Apolline-Jeanne-Suzanne de Bedée. She was dark complected with large features. She was also small and not someone anyone would describe as beautiful. Nevertheless, she was intelligent and imaginative. She loved to read, and her personality and disposition were in stark contrast to that of her husband: where he loved solitude, she loved society, and where he was cold, she was animated. Continue reading →
The Sériziats and Jacques-Louis David were related through marriage. David’s wife was Marguerite Charlotte Pécoul, whom he had married in 1782 and who at the time was about half his age. Marguerite’s sister was Emilie Pécoul. She became Madame Sériziat when she married Pierre Sériziat. Pierre was a rather dapper and elegant looking fellow who might be described as a dandy. He was also wealthy and owned a country home in Favières (Seine-et-Marne), near Tournane-en Brie, about twenty miles east of Paris.
David was a French painter of the Neoclassical style and considered to be the preeminent painter of the Georgian era. He was also a Jacobin, supporter of the French Revolution, and a friend of Maximilien Robespierre. In addition, he was a member of the National Convention and voted for King Louis XVI’s death, which so upset his wife she divorced him in 1793.
Explorer, naturalist, and ornithologist extraordinaire François Levaillant was born on 6 August 1753 in Paramaribo, the capital of Dutch Guiana (Surinam). His father, originally from Metz, was a rich merchant and served as French Consul. His parents had a great interest in collecting objects related to natural history, and because of their interest, they frequently traveled to various parts of the colony taking him with them.
Initially, Levaillant began collecting insects and caterpillars. By the age of ten, he had a collection, which he arranged according to his own system in order to identify insects. Later when he focused on birds and used a similar system to identify them, giving only French names to species that he discovered and refusing to use the systematic nomenclature introduced by Carl Linnaeus. Thus, some of the names he used remain in use today as common names for birds. Continue reading →