History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
My first model—Beaconsfield's curl—Gladstone's collar—John Bright and the Chinaman.
WE now come to a period when I may well speak of my own personal knowledge concerning men and events in association with Madame Tussaud's Exhibition.
The year 1872 was remarkable for several note-worthy events. Two or three, in addition to the National Thanksgiving Day for the recovery of the Prince of Wales from serious illness, vividly recur to memory. Among them was the assassination of the Earl of Mayo, Viceroy of India, who was stabbed by a convict while inspecting the settlement at Port Blair on the Andaman Islands.
The models of the Prince of Wales and the murdered Viceroy were introduced to the Exhibition within a few days of each other, and the sympathetic public responded in great numbers.
A startling and remarkable tribute to the Viceroy's portrait was "unconsciously" paid when the Earl's housekeeper fainted on suddenly finding herself in the presence of the model of her late master.
The first portrait I was entrusted with, as my father's understudy, was that of Prince Milan of Serbia, the Memory of whom has long since passed into oblivion, like that of many others whose stay has been brief among the figures. This was followed by a head of perennial interest, that of Benjamin Disraeli, which I was called upon to remodel on several occasions in after years. Clearly do I recall his characteristic features, so marvellously grasped by Tenniel, whose cartoons in Punch I never tired of studying.
It will be remembered that one of the marked peculiarities of Disraeli's general appearance was the famous curl he wore upon his forehead. Of that circumstance I am at this moment somewhat forcibly re-minded by a letter disclosing the remarkable fact that the curl is still in existence, almost forty years after the great statesman has passed away. Here is an extract from the letter offering the forelock to us as a relic :
Near Droitwich, Worcester,
March 7, 1918.
My aunt, Miss Louise Hennet, nursed Lord Beacons-field during his last illness, and the two locks (one the celebrated curl) were given to her. She was sent to nurse him from the nursing institution of St. John the Divine. The hair is enclosed in paper, which is endorsed in Miss Hennet's writing, and this can be identified.
The letter is duly signed.
It may be easily understood that the modelling of the features of celebrated people stamps the memory of the artist with a deep and abiding impression. I had but shortly seen my father produce a very striking portrait of Marshal Bazaine, solely remembered now for his dramatic surrender at Metz on the 27th of October, 1870.
A small knot of interested people attracted my attention towards a stout, elderly man of military bearing as he was leaving Mr. Adams-Acton's studios in Salisbury Place, Regent's Park. I was astonished to recognise in him the living counterpart of the before-mentioned model.
It was Marshal Bazaine himself, who had but recently escaped from the fortress of Ile Ste. Marguerite, near Cannes. I was much struck by the fact that the ill-starred soldier of the Second Empire looked in no way dejected, despite the disaster that had befallen his reputation.
I am often asked what are the qualifications people must possess for a place in Madame Tussaud's. I can give no better answer than that the public shall demand to see them, for should the portraits of such people be omitted they are invariably inquired for by disappointed visitors.
It is astonishing how great a hold must be taken of the public mind by candidates for inclusion in Madame Tussaud's Exhibition before their election to our house would be welcomed by our patrons.
Of course, we are now associating our minds only with reputable society. As regards the Chamber of Horrors—of which I shall have something to say when the time comes—I may here remark that it is the notorious characters solely who seem to have a prescriptive right to enter that abode of gloom, which used to be called in the old days the "Dead Room," hardly so telling a title as the "Chamber of Horrors," for which, by the way, we are indebted to our dear old friend "Mr. Punch."
As to those people who retain a permanent place in the Exhibition, I suppose the secret is that, either by the example of their lives or through the medium of their works, they have deeply touched the heart or stirred the imagination of the people.
I suppose the British public never looked on two such political gladiators as Beaconsfield and Gladstone, and while these two statesmen dominated people's minds it was natural that they should both have a pedestal at Madame Tussaud's. I can neither say who was first to appear in the Exhibition, nor prophesy who will be the last to go. They are both there now, and still attract much notice from persons of all shades of political opinion.
So often had these figures to be remodelled, to keep pace with the changes worked by time and the strenuous nature of their public service, that there must now repose, carefully stowed away in our "catacombs," impressions of their features sufficient to cover the whole gamut of their political careers.
For more than a generation the Beaconsfield curl and the Gladstone collar exercised a subtle influence in the political world, mainly through the cartoons and caricatures of John Tenniel and Harry Furniss.
One has to be meticulously careful with regard to important details such as these; and when Mr. Gladstone's figure had to be remodelled in later years, it was thought advisable, in order to be quite correct, that a collar actually belonging to the "G. O. M." should be inspected.
Mr. Gladstone was living at Carlton House Terrace at the time the new portrait was in progress; and our "Master of the Robes," who was responsible for the accuracy of detail respecting all Exhibition costumes, called there, and, on examining the statesman's collars, was surprised to find that they were of quite normal size, and not so high as the caricaturist represented them to be.
As a matter of fact, the collars were made to fit loosely round the neck, and thus allowed the wearer's chin to sink behind their upstanding ends. It is gratifying to record that permission to view her husband's collars was graciously given to our representative by Mrs. Gladstone herself.
On a certain occasion when Mr. Gladstone had been notified that Mr. Harry Furniss, the originator of the big collar, would be at a dinner to which he himself was invited, the Liberal leader purposely wore a collar of more than usually modest dimensions, possibly as a gentle rebuke to his caricaturist.
The model which approached nearest to these in popularity at the time was that of John Bright, the great Anti-Corn Law Leaguer and apostle of Free Trade. His portrait has long since stood beside that of Richard Cobden, and these two inseparable reformers must re-main together for good, as they laboured together in their lives.
It was on one of the occasions when Bright's likeness had been brought up to date that an incident, rather flattering to the modeller, occurred in the House of Commons.
An influential Chinaman, on being shown the sights of London, was taken to the Houses of Parliament, where he happened to notice a prominent member passing through one of the lobbies. Without ceremony the Chinaman pounced upon John Bright, and shook him heartily by the hand. The genial statesman was highly amused at the spontaneous greeting, and inquired how it was the Chinaman knew him.
"Oh," he replied, "I knew you at once. I have just come from seeing you at Madame Tussaud's."