History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
More sitters—Mr. John Burns walks and talks—We buy his only suit—Mr. George Bernard Shaw has to work for his living General Booth—Four leading suffragettes—Christabel's model "speaks"—The Channel swimmer.
THE most restless of all my sitters was the Right Honourable John Burns, when he was plain John Burns.
I modelled him in the year 1889 or 1890, at the time of the great Dock Strike. Mr. Burns was then throwing all his magnetic personality into the cause of the workers, and he brought some of that magnetic personality into my studio. Only in a technical sense did he "sit" to me. He was walking and talking all the time.
These were very turbulent days, and Mr. Burns had figured in the Trafalgar Square riots. Shipowners and shipbuilders—and everybody, I imagine, having more than £5oo a year—were the objects of his implacable distrust. He was a younger and poorer man then.
Mr. Burns wore the blue reefer suit which had survived the jostlings of many a crowd, but he did not bring to my studio the famous straw hat of which so much was written in the Press at that time. When I spoke to him about the hat he rather fenced the question, and to this day I believe that hat to be somewhere in Mr. Burns's possesion as a treasured souvenir of his stressful past. I have never seen Mr. Burns wearing any other kind of clothes than blue serge.
I struck a bargain with the dockers' champion that he should let me have the suit he was wearing with which to clothe his portrait in the Exhibition, and so complete the realism of the model. Mr. Burns demurred at first, and then it appeared he had an extremely good reason for doing so. It was the only suit he possessed, and we agreed that I should have it as soon as I provided him with a new one to take its place on his own back.
Mr. Burns told the story of this transaction in reply to an interrupter at a public meeting.
"'Where did you get that 'suit?" asked the interrogator.
"I got it," said Mr. Burns frankly, "from Madame Tussaud's. When my portrait was put in the Exhibition you may, or you may not, have noticed that it was wearing my old suit. As I had no other clothes the management gave me the suit I am wearing now, and I hope you will agree that I made a pretty good bargain."
The audience cheered the speaker and booed the heckler.
Mr. Burns's portrait has been brought up to date since then, but it still wears the old reefer suit, and the fact of this being out of the fashion and rather skimpy only adds to the effectiveness of the picture by recalling the working man the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman raised to Cabinet rank.
They tell me Mr. Burns is getting white, but when I modelled him his hair was black and plentiful.
Judy commemorated the suit incident in the fol-lowing verse, depicting Burns making figure eights on the ice :
'Ave ye seen Johnny Burns
A contrast to Mr. Burns, though possibly of similar socialistic opinions, was Mr. George Bernard Shaw, whom I long wanted to sit to me.
I had not made the acquaintance of the brilliant satirist, and somehow hesitated about approaching him. Eventually I wrote to Mr. Shaw making known my wish, and, without dely, I received from him a good-humoured letter, in which he said that it would give him much pleasure to "join the company of the Immortals."
A little later he wrote making an appointment, and, in due course, Mr. Shaw came to my studio and gave me a delightful hour of his company.
He took up his position on the dais in the most natural manner, and there was nothing more for me to do than proceed with my modelling. I do not know who was the more amused, Mr. Shaw or myself—I by his sayings, and he by the novelty of the situation.
He talked freely as I went on with my work, and one thing among his many whimsical sayings I well remember :
"I took to writing with the object of obtaining a living without having to work for it, but I have long since realised that I made a great mistake."
As we walked through the Exhibition he took a general interest in all he saw, but it was the Napoleonic relics that detained him, as is generally the case with distinguished people.
I thought I detected a certain shyness about Mr. Shaw in the Chamber of Horrors. He was very re-served, and surveyed the faces of degenerate men and women without offering any criticism. I remember that the crafty, and yet not wholly repulsive, face of Charles Peace engaged Mr. Shaw's attention several minutes.
I have no knowledge whether Mr. Shaw ever called to see his portrait. It is quite likely that he did, and it is no less likely that his visit passed unobserved.
It was inevitable that so prominent a figure in the religious world as the late General Booth should find a place in Madame Tussaud's Exhibition.
I went to see the General at the instance of some of his friends, who thought that the portrait of him al-ready included would be all the better for being brought up to date. I recollect being impressed by General Booth's force of character as manifested alike in his manner and in his appearance. He had a keen eye and classic aquiline features.
Though he made no mention of the matter himself, it was pretty plainly hinted to me that permission to include the General's portrait should be accompanied by some _expression of gratitude on the part of the Exhibition authorities "for the good of the cause."
I also went to Exeter Hall to study the General's demeanour while addressing a large audience.
What I remember mostly about that visit was that a "converted" sailor mounted the platform and made a rambling speech. So frank were the confessions of the artless tar that General Booth found it necessary to bundle him unceremoniously off the platform, to the great amusement of the congregation.
I was much interested in modelling a quartette of leading suffragettes, Mrs. Pankhurst, Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, Miss Christabel Pankhurst, and Miss Annie Kenney.
The group is conspicuously shown in the Grand Hall to-day. The ladies came separately, several mornings, and took as much interest as I did in the production of their portraits, a process that was in no sense tedious, as their conversation whiled away the time most pleasantly.
I very soon became aware that the suffragette on the political warpath is a very different woman from the suffragette in other circumstances.
None of them in the least degree frightened me or hectored me; in fact, political questions were discussed by them in the quietest, most sensible, and most intelligent manner, giving me the impression then that the extension of the vote to women would not find such women unqualified to make reasonable use of the privilege so long withheld from them.
After the figures were added to the Exhibition, two of the four ladies very good-humouredly hinted to me that the portraits were not very flattering. I remember the ladies in question coming to see the group, and I promised I would make what alterations seemed possible and desirable. As I have not heard from them since, I gather that the likenesses have proved satisfactory.
Months later, after a batch of laughing damsels had left the building, a paper disc, bearing the words "Votes for Women," was discovered fixed to a button on Mr. Asquith's coat.
It was soon after the figures of the quartette had been placed in the Exhibition that an incident occurred which comes to me through the medium of a Fleet Street artist in black and white attached to a well-known paper.
This gentleman had been instructed to attend a meeting some distance away from town for the purpose of taking some sketches of Miss Christabel Pankhurst, who was announced to speak. Having left things till the last moment, he discovered, to his dismay, that he had missed his train, and, not knowing what to do, he was bewailing his misfortune to a fellow artist, when the latter slapped him on the back and said :
"Never mind, old fellow, you just go to Tussaud's Exhibition and take as many pictures of the fair Christabel's figure as you like. The model is a speaking likeness, and you can take it from me that the sketches will be all right; they will be quite as good as if drawn from life."
The advice was no sooner given than acted upon, and the result, I am told, was most satisfactory.
Another sitter was Mr. T. W. Burgess, who came to my studio a few days after he swam the Channel.
The burly Yorkshireman laughed as he entered and remarked :
"I am in pretty good training, but I would rather swim the Channel again than sit still for you, Mr. Tussaud. However, I will do the best I can."
He sold the clothes he took off before he entered the water, and these clothes are worn by his portrait, now in the Exhibition. He also parted with the goggles and indiarubber cap he had worn during his swim, and the cup from which he took nourishment. Unfortunately one of Burgess's too ardent "admirers" purloined his hero's cup from us.