Madame Tussauds, the world's most established wax work museum, is more than just a stop along the tourist trail; it holds a gruesome history that can reveal much about ourselves.
Born Marie Grosholtz in France in 1761, Madame Tussaud was a remarkable artist who turned into a shrewd businesswoman, escaping the bloodshed of the French Revolution to establish a world-famous attraction.
Grosholtz learned the art of wax sculpture from her mother's employer, one Philippe Curtius, a doctor and talented sculptor. At the age of just 17, she produced a waxwork of the philosopher Voltaire. Soon afterwards she immortalized U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin in wax.
In 1789, Grosholtz became entangled in the French Revolution, where her choice was between death and using her wax working talents to aid the revolutionaries. As the heads of French kings and nobles rolled off the guillotine, she would scoop them up, as she wrote in her memoirs, and preserve their faces in wax. Some were even her past employers, as she had worked as an art tutor for the royal household just months before.
After marrying and raising two children, she took her wax models on tour around Britain for 33 years, wowing the public with her models of murderers, aristocrats and criminals. She later established a permanent exhibition in London and continued to work until just eight years before she died.
If you step into one of the eight Madame Tussauds around the world, you'll see a host of celebrities, movie stars, musicians, as well as some of the world's leaders and notable figures from history.
The museums bring in millions of visitors each year, and are not without controversy even today. Recently, at the Berlin museum, an Adolf Hitler effigy was attacked shortly after it was unveiled.
Mainly, though, visitors come to see the wax likenesses of celebrities, like the Amy Winehouse figure that was just added.
Ben Lovett, spokesman for Madame Tussauds London, admits Tussauds has changed in some ways, with a stronger focus on celebrity, but insists that in other ways it's much the same.
"She had a knack of keeping things topical, which is something we continue to do. We've had Gordon Brown, Amy Winehouse and more. It all goes back to Tussaud in her days. She would identify the latest criminal, royal, social thinker, and then keep her studio team working at night for days, add the figure to the exhibition and then call the press," he told ABC News.
Celebrities, as we know them, did not exist in the Tussaud's day, but "she had an understanding that the public are prepared to pay good money to see famous people," says Ben Lovett.
Critics of today's exhibitions say they are too focused on movie stars, like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Lovett counters that they are simply following the principles of Tussaud.
"We are reflecting what the general public feels are the people who have made an impact on society and history. We see ourselves as a barometer of fame…It is more celebrity focused, no doubt, but the U.K. is a very celebrity savvy place, so our exhibition reflects that. In Germany there are more historical figures because that's what the German public have asked for, while in Tussaud's day it was all about royals and criminals," he said.
Earlier this month, Germany's Madame Tussauds exhibition unveiled a waxwork of Adolf Hitler, whose head was ripped off by a protester just three minutes after opening time.