Amazing articles on just about every subject...


History Of Madame Tussaud's

( Originally Published 1920 )

Wellington 'visits the effigy of the dead Napoleon, and sits to Sir George Hayter for historic picture—Paintings from models—Is the photograph "taken from life," or—?

WELLINGTON gazing upon the effigy of Napoleon is one of the many instances of a really fine picture being produced from an original work executed in our studios. Upon it hangs an interesting story.

Early one morning, soon after the Exhibition had been opened for the day, Joseph, Madame Tussaud's son, who had been wandering through the rooms, as was his habit, perceived an elderly gentleman in front of the tableau representing the lying-in-state of Napoleon I.

The model of the dead exile rested—as it does down to this very day—on the camp bedstead used by Napoleon at St. Helena, and was dressed in the favourite green uniform, the cloak worn at Marengo (bequeathed by Napoleon to his son) lying across the feet. In the hands, crossed upon the chest, was a crucifix. In those days it was the custom to lower at night the curtains that enclosed the bed, in order to exclude the dust, whereas now the whole scene is encased in glass.

Observing that the visitor was desirous of seeing the effigy, and no attendant being at hand, Joseph Tussaud raised the hangings, whereupon the visitor removed his hat, and, to his great surprise, Joseph saw that he was face to face with none other than the great Duke of Wellington himself.

There stood his Grace, contemplating with feelings of mixed emotions the strange and suggestive scene before him.

On the camp bed lay the mere presentment of the man who, seven-and-thirty years before, had given him so much trouble to subdue.

No feeling of triumph passed through the conqueror's mind as he looked upon the poor waxen image, too true in its aspect of death; he rather thought upon the vanity of earthly triumphs, of the levelling hand of time, and how soon he, like his great contemporary, might be stretched upon his own bier.

Mr. Joseph Tussaud used frequently to recall this dramatic meeting between the Iron Duke and the effigy of his erstwhile foe, and to imagine the feelings of the old General as he gazed upon the couch. It was probably the first of the Duke's many visits to the Exhibition.

A few days after this most interesting visit Mr. Tussaud, who was an old friend of Sir George Hayter, related the incident to that artist.

Hayter was immediately struck with the potential value of the event for the production of a painting of the historic scene, and the Tussaud brothers at once commissioned him to execute the work for them.

Sir George thereupon communicated the idea to the Duke, who readily responded, and offered to give the necessary sittings. We have the sketches made by Hayter in preparation for the work, and among them appears a drawing of Joseph Tussaud himself, although he does not enter the actual picture.

Hearing that the artist was making progress with the painting, the Duke visited his studio, and, having expressed himself warmly in appreciation of the picture (the figures had been but lightly limned in at the time), said :

"Well, I suppose you'll want me to sit for my picture here'?"

Hayter has given us a most characteristic portrait of Wellington as he then appeared. He is dressed in his usual blue frock-coat, white trousers, and white cravat, fastened with the familiar steel buckle. He stoops a little as was his wont, his head is lightly covered with snow-white hair, and his manly features are marked with an _expression of mingled curiosity and sadness as, hat in hand, he looks upon the recumbent Napoleon. The picture was completed early in December, 1852, and has been on view in the Napoleon Rooms at the Exhibition ever since.

The engravings of the picture have been circulated in thousands throughout the world, and, strange to say, they are exceedingly popular in Austria. It is an interesting fact that the painting in question was the last portrait for which the Duke ever sat.

This story brings to mind several instances in which the members of the Tussaud family, especially in days gone by, have produced subjects for other artists to paint from. For example, the model of Marat stabbed in his bath—which has been shown in our Exhibition ever since it existed in Paris—was modelled expressly to assist the famous David to paint his picture representing the death of the miscreant.

Strange to say, a replica of this painting was offered to us a year or so ago, and the dealer who submitted it insisted that it was the picture from which our model was -copied. He looked wofully incredulous when it was explained to him that the boot was on the other foot, and that the picture had been copied from the model.

On one occasion, in a newsagent's shop, a lady customer asked for a picture postcard of King Edward. Several were shown to her, but after inspecting them she pushed all the direct photographs on one side, and selected the print of a figure that had been modelled. The shopkeeper subsequently stated that this card was almost invariably chosen in preference to others.

In recent years there has grown a curious disposition on the part of certain publishers to exploit for their own purposes work produced in our studios. This is not to be wondered at when photographs of our models have been so often mistaken for portraits taken direct from life.

We have ourselves on many occasions photographed our likenesses for reproduction by the Press; and, apart from this, newspaper representatives, times out of number, have requested permission to take a photograph of figures in the Exhibition for the use of their own journal.

There is also the inevitable snapshotter, who neither asks permission nor cares whether it is granted or not. Such individuals seize an opportunity when few persons are about and take an illicit "negative" without risking a verbal one. The result has been that the photographs thus secured—all subject to copyright fees never collected—have been made use of for all kinds of purposes; they have turned up as blocks in news-papers and magazines, illustrations in books, and portrait postcards, besides being treasured in albums and framed as pictures.

Only very occasionally has a statement accompanied publication acknowledging the source from which the picture has originated—a circumstance that has more than once led to a curious and, so far as the artist is concerned, a somewhat vexatious contretemps.

It has so happened that we have had sometimes to send a member of our staff in quest of all the latest photographs of a favourite celebrity whose figure we have desired to remodel and bring up to date. Not infrequently has he brought back with him "photo-graphs" purporting to have been taken from life, but which have been instantly recognised as reproductions of figures in the Exhibition.

A droll incident once occurred illustrative of this strange situation.

Many years ago, when Mr. Joseph Tussaud, under pressure of time and with very meagre material to go upon, produced a portrait of the late Pope Leo XIII directly after he was elevated to the papal chair, a certain well-known firm of photographers were at their wits' end to obtain a portrait of the new Pontiff, and the novel idea suggested itself to them of arranging to borrow for a short time Madame Tussaud's model, and therefrom obtain an original negative that might fulfil their requirements. This they accordingly did, and the object was achieved with remarkable success, for the portrait challenged detection. So lifelike was the picture that when it was placed upon the market beholders concluded that the Pope had sat for it.

Another firm of photographers, some time afterwards, and at great trouble and expense, succeeded in obtaining sittings from the Pope himself.

When the portrait taken from life appeared, and was compared with the photographs from the model, very grave doubt was raised as to whether the new portrait was really a good likeness, and many persons questioned its genuineness, much to the chagrin of the photographers who produced it.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com