This poster for a travelling waxworks show demonstrates the breadth of subjects common to the form in the mid-Victorian era: the royal family, foreign noblemen and women, Biblical figures, dubious orientalist entertainments (‘The Turkish Slave Market’) and notorious murderers. Most of these exhibits are described as being ‘animated’, which means that through motorised mechanical armatures beneath the wax surface the figures were induced to move and seemingly interact in a relatively lifelike way.
Such mechanical innovations, as well as the popularisation of waxwork models, are generally credited to Madame Marie Tussaud (1761-1850). Born in Strasbourg, she learned wax carving from Philippe Curtius, a physician for whom her mother was housekeeper. Curtius built his models to better teach and understand human anatomy, but later moved into more purely artistic depictions of the human form. He built a model of the last mistress of Louis XV, Madame du Barry, which was notable for containing an inflatable bladder that appeared to show the subject breathing. Tussaud inherited Curtius’s sculptures and casts on his death, and, adding many sculptures of her own, went on to found Madame Tussaud’s Museum in Marylebone, London.