The Art of Wax

Capturing History in Wax: A Journey Through Tussaud's Waxworks

The Art of Wax cover image on abstract background
The Art of Wax - A brief journey through the history of Tussaud's

A trip down memory lane to Blackpool's Louis Tussaud's waxworks, contrasting its quirky charm with the hyperrealism of Madame Tussaud's. A celebration of wax art's rich history and its enduring appeal.

The Old World of Wax…

An art form that dates back as far as ancient Rome and Egypt, wax modelling had once been used to preserve images of the dead prior to the invention of photography. Wax figures had also been used in religion to create effigies of saints, it’s certainly an art form with a dark past. Today, wax modelling is all about celebrity, popular culture and the tourist pound so you’re more likely to see a YouTuber immortalized than you are to see a politicians head on a stick.

Blackpool, The British Vegas…

Today, we're diving into the world of waxworks, specifically Madame Tussaud's and its life-size dioramas that look like they've been plucked straight from a movie set. Admittedly, it's been a while since I've visited a waxworks museum. The last time I ventured into one was in Blackpool, a seaside resort on the Lancashire coast of England. Back in the 1970s and 1980s when I last visited, it was a Louis Tussaud, a far cry from the Madame Tussaud's that has replaced it in more recent years.

For those of you who've never been to Blackpool, imagine a British version of Las Vegas, but with a beach lapped by the cold waves of the Irish Sea, hen parties, cheap beer, and a whole lot of rain. You should definitely pack a raincoat, even in summer.

view from the top of Blackpool tower at night
504 feet up at the top of Blackpool Tower while standing on a glass floor!

Blackpool’s also famous for traditional fish and chips, Blackpool Tower, and the Pleasure Beach, a funfair that has grown into a theme park that’s not at all like Disney World. It’s also home to the Tower Ballroom, one of the finest examples of ballrooms in the world. You can watch a live show in a Victorian theatre, or laugh at comedians plying their stand-up routines at the end of the pier.

Blackpool gets a bad rap. It's one of the most socially deprived areas in the UK, yet on my recent trip, I had a truly wonderful time. It was up there with some of the best short-breaks I’ve ever had. I stayed in a hotel embedded within Blackpool Football Club, I literally had breakfast on the terraces overlooking the pitch.

Having travelled to over 50 countries by cruise ship and plane, I must say that my few days in Blackpool were magical. For me, Blackpool is nostalgia on steroids. I spent countless childhood holidays there, and it hasn't changed a bit since the 1970s. I mean, literally not a bit.

Some people love Blackpool, others seem to loathe it with a passion. It’s an acquired taste that is usually shaped by listening to stories of cheap hotels where your feet stick to the floor, there might be some of that, but it’s by no means all like that. To truly understand Blackpool, you need to look beyond the surface, forget the stereotypes and be open to surprise.

It's a bold, brash place, filled with the noise of arcade penny pushers,  children having the best time ever and all of this noise and chaos is set amidst the weekenders who have probably had a little bit too much to drink. If this sounds like an horrendous vacation experience, you also need to listen to the stories of everything Blackpool gets right. The zoo, The Tower and Stanley Park are world class attractions and the annual Blackpool illuminations are a British tradition.

It’s loud, it’s certainly eclectic, and maybe even overly eccentric, and so are many of its people. But they're also the salt of the earth – friendly, welcoming, and fiercely proud of their town that genuinely never sleeps.

Night view from the top of Blackpool Tower
Unedited, the rainy outlook across the lights of Blackpool the the Irish Sea. 504 feet in the air, the best view ever.

Blackpool is also a town of internal economic migration. Brits flock here in search of riches, fame, and the tourist pound during the summer season. With its live shows, indoor markets, fairgrounds, and amusement attractions, you get the sense that the pop-up shop selling fidget spinners or the latest trend was conceived in Blackpool.

Delve deeper, remove your tourist blinkers, and you'll discover a town steeped in a fascinating and long spanning history. I'll cover more of that history in another blog, especially the history of the amusement and fairground industry, which is surprisingly more intertwined with the art world than you might think with elements of the industry that date back to 1066.

Blackpool Football Club pitch
A Room with a View, or at least this is where I had breakfast. The hotel is within one of the main stands and the restaurant overlooks the pitch. Clear blue skies wouldn't last all day though, this is after all, Blackpool!

Tussaud’s or Not Tussaud’s…

When I visited Louis Tussaud's waxworks back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, I was amazed by how lifelike the wax statues were. I vividly remember walking through the chamber of horrors and the anatomical exhibition, both of which have long gone from the displays now that the waxworks has changed ownership. I also remember standing in awe next to a life-size Dr. Who, accompanied by his robotic dog, K9. Adjacent to the waxworks in the 1970s and 1980s, a separate Dr Who exhibition existed that had nothing to do with Tussaud’s, it competed for footfall by playing the Dr Who theme tune loudly.

It seems that my appreciation for artistic license may have been more developed back then. Looking through old photographs of the models created and exhibited in the 1970s and 1980s, the statues appear almost abstract. Was my memory of the exhibition blurred by the wide-eyed wonder of childhood, or was it more a product of the time period? Maybe it was a combination of both.

There's no comparison between the models displayed during those previous decades and the models you see today. Firstly, Blackpool's waxworks at the time was a Louis Tussaud's, to the unaware, it was a wannabe facsimile of the more established Madame Tussaud's. I'm not sure the difference would have been obvious back in the 80s; I remember my parents calling it Madame Tussaud's, so I grew up thinking they were one and the same.

The Golden Mile Blackpool
Interestingly, children have been able to gamble in Britain for decades. Only small coins and smaller winnings but there is a history here that spans back to 1066, before Blackpool had been built and well before the Golden Mile. It always rains in Blackpool.

Today's Madame Tussaud's is a far more polished experience. The models on display are the work of teams of wax artists, sculptors, and painters, with every single detail meticulously crafted. Each model costs around £150,000 ($188,276 US) to create and can take months of work from a multidisciplinary teams of artisans.

Despite the seemingly lacklustre quality of the Louis Tussaud's models, the exhibition worked because the statues were of people you would only usually see on TV or in newspapers. There was no baseline of reality to compare them to, so you could readily accept their likeness.

Louis Tussaud's, as it was named at the time, was a very different institution from the more established Madame Tussaud's, despite Louis being the great grandson of Anna Maria Grosholtz, who would later come to be known as Madame Marie Tussaud.

Bear Grylls Wax Figure at Tussauds
Bear Grylls - lifelike wax figure on display at Madame Tussaud's, Blackpool. You can get really close to the figures. Clothing is often donated by the celebrity.

The Birth of Madame Tussaud's

The story of perhaps the most famous waxworks in history begins in 1761 when Anna Maria Grosholtz, was born in Strasbourg, France. As a child, she learned the art of wax modelling from her mentor, Dr. Philippe Curtius. Dr. Curtius, a skilled wax sculptor and physician, taught Marie the intricate techniques of creating realistic wax figures.

In 1777, Madame Tussaud created her first wax sculpture, the famous philosopher Voltaire. As her skills flourished, she caught the attention of the French royal family, leading to her appointment as an art tutor to King Louis XVI's sister, Madame Elizabeth, during the turbulent years of the French Revolution. It was during the time of the French Revolution (1789) that tensions escalated.

In 1794, during the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud was arrested and imprisoned. Her captors demanded that she create death masks of executed aristocrats, including those of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This task was not only emotionally taxing for Madame Tussaud but also put her in a precarious position, as her survival depended on her ability to navigate the dangerous political climate of the time.

Japanese inspired art print by Mark Taylor
Perseverance Brings Power by Mark Taylor - I'm loving working with limited colour pallets and learning Japanese lettering to boot!

Madame Tussaud's skills in creating lifelike wax sculptures, combined with her resourcefulness, likely played a role in her survival during this tumultuous period. After her release, she continued to practice and refine her wax modelling skills, eventually establishing Madame Tussaud's Waxworks, which gained fame and success both in France and later in London. The wax museum became a testament to her artistry and resilience in the face of challenging circumstances.

The Move to London…

In 1802, Madame Tussaud left France and brought her collection of wax figures to London, establishing her first exhibition on the city's Baker Street. The exhibition quickly gained popularity, drawing crowds eager to witness the lifelike depictions of notable figures from both the French and British courts.

Over the years, Madame Tussaud continued to expand her collection, adding more celebrities and historical figures. The success of the exhibition prompted several relocations within London, each time to larger and more prominent locations.

Wax figure of Thor at Madame Tussauds
Thor - a man made from wax and other stuff... Madame Tussaud's, Blackpool.

Surviving Challenges…

Madame Tussaud's faced numerous challenges throughout its history, including fires, wars, and economic downturns. However, the wax museum persevered, demonstrating resilience and adaptability. In 1925, the museum moved to its current London location on Marylebone Road, where it continues to attract millions of visitors each year.

Evolution and Innovation…

While Madame Tussaud's initially focused on historical and royal figures, the museum has evolved to include celebrities, sports icons, and fictional characters. The waxworks have become increasingly interactive, with visitors able to pose with and touch the sculptures, creating a more immersive experience.

That experience is now global, with more than 10-million guests visiting a Tussaud’s each year across 25 locations around the world. Each location caters to the geographic region, blending local culture with globally recognised figures to cater for the diverse audiences and sensitivities to local regional nuances.

The locations to date include:

1.    London, United Kingdom

2.    Amsterdam, Netherlands

3.    Berlin, Germany

4.    Vienna, Austria

5.    Bangkok, Thailand

6.    Beijing, China

7.    Blackpool, United Kingdom

8.    Hollywood, United States

9.    Las Vegas, United States

10.                   Nashville, United States

11.                   New York City, United States

12.                   Orlando, United States

13.                   San Francisco, United States

14.                   Shanghai, China

15.                   Singapore

16.                   Sydney, Australia

17.                   Tokyo, Japan

18.                   Istanbul, Turkey

19.                   Prague, Czech Republic

20.                   Delhi, India

21.                   Wuhan, China

22.                   Chongqing, China

23.                   Guangzhou, China

24.                   Shenyang, China

25.                   Seoul, South Korea

Louis Tussaud's Waxworks: A Quirky Tale of Wax, Wonders, and Whimsy…

On my recent visit to Blackpool’s Madame Tussauds, I was struck by the detail that had been applied in every model. Some were more realistic than others, but none of them reminded me of the models that had been exhibited in the same space all those years ago. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to find a few old photographs of the Louis Tussaud’s I had visited back all those years ago, the difference is quite staggering.

While Madame Tussaud's Waxworks is globally recognised, a quirky and lesser-known chapter in the world of wax museums unfolds with Louis Tussaud's Waxworks.

portal abstract art by Mark Taylor
Portal by Mark Taylor - one of my latest creations is available now from usual stockists and directly. 

Born into the famed Tussaud family, Louis Tussaud carved out (no pun intended) his niche in the wax figure world, creating a unique legacy that adds a touch of eccentricity to the wax museum landscape. I guess that’s a polite way to say that even today, Louis Tussaud’s models are an acquired taste, not overly lifelike, and judging by some of the more recent photographs I found online, the models to the casual visitor are perhaps seen as more of a supermarket value range when compared to the much bigger Madame Tussaud’s.

Fall Down Seven Times Stand Up Eight by Mark Taylor
Fall Down Seven Times Stand Up Eight by Mark Taylor

That’s not to disparage the models created at the hands of the teams behind Louis Tussaud’s models. Far from it, all too often I see a news headline decrying the quality of the waxworks models when some celebrity or other has posted about their seemingly hilarious visit on social media. These celebrities, and to a lesser extent some more mortal members of the public who dismiss Louis Tussaud’s as overly inferior, are kind of missing the artistic point.

The Two Faces of Wax Art: Louis Tussauds Waxworks and Madame Tussauds Waxworks…

Wax figures have long been a source of fascination and entertainment, with their lifelike appearance and ability to capture the essence of a person or character. While Madame Tussauds Waxworks is often considered the gold standard of wax artistry, Louis Tussauds takes a very different approach, but, despite the whimsical and playful nature of their models, is no less serious.

Madame Tussauds focuses on hyperrealism, creating wax figures that are so lifelike they can from a distance be mistaken for the real person. Louis Tussauds, on the other hand, embraces a more artistic and playful approach, often using caricature and exaggeration to create figures that are more akin to sculptures than realistic representations.

You laugh at Louis but not at Matisse…

That both Madame Tussaud’s and Louis Tussaud’s coexist, enriches the artistry of the world of wax modelling. Contrasting styles between the two institutions bring a much wider range of artistic expression to the medium, just as two contrasting painters bring their own contrasts in more traditional art forms. Some find the realism painted by old Masters to be the gold standard when it comes to traditional artworks, the same people might tut at the thought of hanging an original Pollock on their wall. Both are valid art forms that appeal to each of their respective tribes.

TV game art print by Mark Taylor
As Seen On TV - all hand drawn and painted, this is one of my most recent retro inspired artworks. Available from my usual outlets and signed editions are available directly. 

Louis Tussaud’s figures have been mocked by many, but as I intimated earlier, they’re kind of missing that all important artistic point. Art needs to be different to cater to the diverse tastes of art fans around the world. Some might find the caricature based whimsical nature of a Louis model to be laughable, and that’s great, it’s a reaction, something every artist should aspire to bring out from their work.

I personally favour Madame Tussaud’s approach because I love detail, anyone who follows my work will know that I sometimes go over the top on detail in my own work, it’s not necessarily needed, but I consciously choose to add tiny extras, often to the detriment of time. I do this because the niche audience my retro work serves have a tendency to be sticklers for nostalgia and a small detail can be the difference between triggering a moment of remembering the past, or making the work blah. But I fully appreciate that sometimes, we just need a nod to the subject or a moment, it all depends on the crowd you’re playing to.

Great Talents Mature Late by Mark Taylor
Great Talents Mature Late by Mark Taylor - from my new Japanese inspired series!

Louis Tussaud’s is without question, very much a conversation starter. I think that’s something that certainly, many new and even not so new artists can learn from. Art should make you think,  engage with, and talk about, and it should give you a different perspective, and challenge perceptions. The exaggeration is a disconnect from the real world with Louis Tussaud’s and as an institution that is seen as an entertainment venue first and foremost, perhaps in this respect Louis Tussaud’s is more on point.

The contrasting approaches of Louis Tussauds Waxworks and Madame Tussauds venues and artistry serve as a testament to the adaptability and versatility of wax as an artistic medium. Their distinct styles not only enrich the art world but also encourage broader appreciation for the diverse interpretations and expressions that art can encompass. It’s also fascinating that both institutions are engaging the general public in a conversation and discovery of an art form without many of the public realising that they are visiting what is essentially a gallery created by artists.

Flick Football art print by Mark Taylor
Flick Football by Mark Taylor - one of my retro toy creations inspired by tabletop football or as friends in the USA call it, soccer. (It's football you know...)

The Legacy of Louis…

Louis Tussaud, born in 1869, inherited the families creativity and developed his own passion for wax modelling.

In the mid-19th century, Louis set up his own wax museum, it was intentionally different to Madame Tussaud’s  original venue in London, England, and had been created to appeal to a very different audience. Opening in Regent Street, London, in 1890, the waxworks enjoyed a popularity that continues today.

Louis's waxworks quickly gained attention for its eclectic mix of historical figures, celebrities, and peculiar creations, each imbued with his distinctive style.

Louis Tussaud's Waxworks was not known for its strict adherence to realism, making that distinction between the two museums even more apparent. While Madame Tussaud was synonymous with hyper-realism, Louis took creative liberties, infusing a touch of humour and whimsy into his figures. Visitors to his museum were treated to a curious collection that included exaggerated and caricatured versions of famous personalities, making for a light-hearted and entertaining experience.

Following Louis Tussaud's death in 1938, his waxworks continued under the care of his descendants. The museum faced challenges, including changes in ownership and locations, but it maintained its reputation for quirkiness. Over the years, the collection expanded to include new additions, blending historical figures with contemporary pop culture references.

Louis Tussaud’s was also known for its chamber of horrors attraction, something I remember well from the Blackpool location. It featured exhibits that were probably too mature for young people, yet I must have been around 9 or 10 years old when I first visited. Exhibits at the time included a torture chamber and a guillotine.

Slot Car Racing art print by Mark Taylor
Slot Car Racing art print by Mark Taylor - available from my usual outlets. You have no idea how long it took me to paint the track, it looked so simple yet I was still working on the track after 5 hours! You can see the detail on my Pixels website.

The Evolution of Wax Modelling…

In the early days of wax modelling, artisans and sculptors would use beeswax, today the materials are far more advanced. Wax is still the primary material used in modelling but artists also use resin and silicone, and the techniques used today are significantly more advanced than in the past.

Early artists would use simple sculpting techniques, today they use a much more varied range of techniques, technology and skills including digital sculpting and 3D printing. This isn’t surprising as some of the wax models today also incorporate technologies and advanced animatronics.

New techniques are constantly being explored, but many of the techniques used today  hark back to the very same processes used by Madame Tussaud. Once a public figure is chosen, there is a sitting where up to 200 measurements are taken of the subject alongside photographs from every angle. Eyes, hair and skin are colour matched, and a metal armature is constructed to support a clay mould.

Wabi Sabi Japanese inspired artwork by Mark Taylor
Wabi Sabi Japanese inspired artwork by Mark Taylor - one of a series of new works originally created as a commission. The commissioned piece will appear on a future trading card!

The head is worked on separately from the body, in a process that can last for around four to six weeks. Real human hairs are inserted individually, including eyebrows, and artist’s will then paint the model to reproduce the exact skin tone and detail any blemishes. In this process, ten base layers are used to replicate the skin tone and it is at this point that an hair stylist will style the hair.

A plaster cast is created from the clay sculpture and then melted wax is poured slowly into the mould to avoid air bubbles. Excess wax is then removed leaving a hallow head where the eyes and teeth can then be placed. The body of each Madame Tussaud waxwork is then created in exactly the same way, but bodies are created using fibreglass for durability.

Wax Modelling Beyond The Tourist Attraction…

Wax models have also been used in anatomy and medicine for centuries and while the contributions of Vesalius and his followers to anatomical illustration have been widely recognised, the work of Veslingius and particularly Fabricius has often been overlooked. By 1600, Fabricius had amassed over 300 paintings that together formed the Tabulae Pictae, an impressive anatomical atlas that was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Many of his new observations were incorporated into subsequent works, including those by Casserius, Spighelius, Harvey, and Veslingius himself.

Neon Nostalgia art print of vintage technology by Mark Taylor
Neon Nostalgia by Mark Taylor - another new retro work, this time featuring the stuff you really wanted in the 1980s!

The Tabulae Pictae: A Masterpiece of Anatomical Illustration

The Tabulae Pictae was a ground-breaking work that featured highly detailed and accurate illustrations of the human body. Fabricius's meticulous attention to detail and his use of shading and perspective created a sense of realism that was unmatched by previous anatomical illustrations. His work was particularly influential in the development of anatomical wax modelling.

The Influence of Eustachius and the Rise of Anatomical Wax Modelling…

The Tabulae by Eustachius (1552), which were not published until 1714, also had a significant impact on anatomical wax modelling. Eustachius's detailed illustrations of the inner ear and other anatomical structures provided valuable inspiration for wax modelers.

In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV established the Museum of Anatomy in Bologna, entrusting Ercole Lelli with the creation of several anatomical preparations in wax. Lelli's work was highly regarded, and his wax models were used for teaching and research purposes for many years.

Felice Fontana, recognising the potential of wax models for anatomical teaching, proposed the establishment of a wax-modelling workshop in Florence in 1771. With the support of the Grand Duke, Fontana's workshop produced a large number of highly detailed wax models that were used for teaching and research purposes throughout Europe.

Japanese inspired art print by Mark Taylor
Fear is Greater than Danger by Mark Taylor - one of the new series of Japanese inspired works I have worked on.

The contributions of Veslingius, Fabricius, Eustachius, Lelli, and Fontana to anatomical illustration and wax modelling were significant and far-reaching. Their work helped to advance the understanding of human anatomy and revolutionised the way anatomy was taught and studied.

The Renaissance…

Masters of wax modelling also appeared during the renaissance, where models would appear alongside more traditional works of art. Sculptors during this period would also create wax models as drafts for the works they would go on to produce in stone or marble, and there are surviving examples from Michelangelo in the Royal Collection and the British Museum.

It was also during the renaissance that wax portrait reliefs became popular, with the craft originally attributed to Antonio Abondio who had previously created works for the courts of Northern Europe. Interestingly, wax portraits continue for the time being to be one of the more affordable entry points to serious fine art collecting.

Today it’s not impossible to pick up a relatively early work for a few hundred pounds or dollars, although those with more important connections will be more likely in the region of ten thousand pounds/dollars. In 2015, a work valued at $7000 surpassed the estimate with a final sale price of $31,250 and in 2020, a collection of wax seals from famous figures including William Pitt, Marie Antionette, and Benjamin Franklin was sold at Sotheby’s for £5250 (UK).

Collecting Wax Art…

If you are thinking about collecting wax based art, you might also want to consider that the figures, models and seals you are most likely to find today will have been created with beeswax, and this is especially problematic to care for. Often tinted with pigment, wax portraits are especially susceptible to UV rays and heat from the sun. You might also want to consider how any pieces are lit, the standard light level to display these items is usually around 150 LUX with a maximum UV level of 75 microwatts per lumen.

Temperature is another factor to consider. In warm or high temperatures, the works can become deformed, if the temperature is too cold, then you will see cracks leaving the work brittle due to a loss of moisture and elasticity. If models are constructed using metal frames, there’s also a consideration around the introduction of rust.

So while there are a lot of these works selling relatively inexpensively when compared to other fine arts, you do need to pay attention to the condition of the work. If problems are caught early on, then it is possible for a conservator to preserve the piece in most cases, but this adds to the overall cost of ownership. That said, traditional fine art can also succumb to environmental factors, and I have a feeling that wax is beginning to become more fashionable amongst collectors given the recent sales figures, so long as you keep it stored in a cool dark place, but just maybe not in Louis Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, it was horrific!

About Mark…

Mark is an original retro artist who has been painting the 1980s since the 1980s. He is a vintage technology and home computing preservationist (retro hoarder) and has been creating art professionally since the mid-eighties. He made brief appearances on TV and Radio during the 1990s.

You can purchase Mark’s work through Fine Art America or his Pixels site here:   You can also purchase prints and originals directly. You can view Mark’s portfolio website and see a small selection of his works at

Join the conversation on Facebook at: and Threads or connect on “X” (You realise it’s still Twitter right?) @beechhouseart You can also find me on BlueSky, but let’s be honest, no one can find anyone on BlueSky. All images, text, are copyright. 


Popular Posts