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  • Gavin Whitehead

Introducing Queen of Crime . . .

Updated: Jan 14


Madame Tussaud. We all know the name, but few of us realize the historical signifcance of her wax museum. Nor do we realize that she redefined the genre of true crime.




Above: Madame Tussaud, aged forty-two. "A Portrait Study by John T. Tussaud." Taken from The Romance of Tussaud's by John Theodore Tussaud.


 

TRANSCRIPT


Marie Grosholtz excelled at an unusual art form. And yet, by her early twenties, she was so good that she had won patronage from the French royal family. By her mid-forties, she had borne witness to the French Revolution and earned international acclaim for her artwork about it. By the time of her death at eighty-nine, she had opened up shop in the British capital and reigned as one of the country’s most celebrated show-women. Her London venue is still open today and serves as the flagship of an entertainment empire. The name Marie Grosholtz may not ring a bell, but that’s because you probably know her as Madame Tussaud. Sure, we know the name, but few of us realize the significance of Tussaud and her wax museum. Nor do we appreciate that she redefined the genre of true crime.


Welcome to The Art of Crime, a history podcast about the unlikely collisions between true crime and the arts. This season is titled Queen of Crime: Madame Tussaud and the Chamber of Horrors. Queen of Crime tells two stories. First, it chronicles Tussaud’s long and distinguished career, kicking off in pre-revolutionary France and wrapping up in Victorian London. Each episode covers a chapter in her biography, exploring her rise to fame as well as the earth-shaking historical events she witnessed. Second, this season charts the evolution of the Chamber of Horrors, a special showroom in her wax museum that exhibited an array of macabre curiosities, including effigies of notorious murderers. Just as each episode advances the narrative of Tussaud’s life story, it’s also structured around at least one noteworthy criminal or crime depicted in the Chamber.


As we track the history of Tussaud’s hall of infamy, we’ll encounter the most divisive assassin of the French Revolution, the last man to hung, drawn, and quartered for high treason in England, and the convicted murderer who attained notoriety as the modern incarnation of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. As will become evident, by catering to public fascination with true crime, Tussaud sparked debates about the ethics of the genre that still rage today.


Unlike previous seasons of this podcast, Queen of Crime revolves around a single artist, Madame Tussaud. Yet we’ll talk about some of the most significant creators of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries because Tussaud’s story intersects with theirs. We’ll cross paths with artists who remain famous to the present day—Voltaire, Dickens, Alexandre Dumas père. We’ll also meet others who were renowned back then but are less so now—tragic actress Sarah Siddons, painter Jacques-Louis David, magician Paul Philipstahl, and who could forget Mrs. Salmon, the most celebrated wax modeler in London before Tussaud came to town? Oh, and there’s also a trained monkey by the name of Turcot who could walk across a tightrope and impersonate celebrities.


Episode 1 will be available to the public starting next Wednesday, January 10. However, patrons of The Art of Crime can listen right now. If you can’t wait until then and you’d like to support the show, please consider signing up as a patron at www.patreon.com/artofcrimepodcast. Again, that’s www.patreon.com/artofcrimepodcast. Until next time!

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