Marie Grosholtz. was born in Strasbourg France during the Seven Years War. Her father, Joseph, died in the war two months before Marie’s birth. She and her widowed mother, also named Marie, moved to Switzerland, to the city of Bern, where the mother found work as the housekeeper of a surgeon.
This surgeon became the most influential person in the young Marie’s life. His name was Dr. Curtius. Marie became like a surrogate niece to the doctor, and she returned his love. Curtius took the young girl into his surgery and taught her anatomy. Here, from the time she could clamber on to a stool to reach the counter, Marie learned the skills that would make her life’s work.
The doctor used models to teach anatomy to students, and he found that the young girl had a natural feel for the creation of those models. Using pliable materials, Maria sculpted body parts that Dr. Curtius would then teach from. She saw the models she did not as work but rather as play, as time she could spend learning more from her beloved and adopted uncle. The pair became inseparable, and, by the time she was in her teens, Marie’s models were far superior to those off the good doctor.
In between the years of the Seven Years War and the beginning of the French Revolution, Curtius and Marie and her mother moved moved to Paris. There, the doctor set up his practice, but he started a sideline business—he began exhibiting the models that Marie had so lovingly and skilfully crafted. People were fascinated by the fact that she was so young, yes, but also that she was so talented.
She began modelling the heads of the famous and the infamous in France at the time. She even spent time among the soon-to-be-doomed Royal Family of France, even receiving an invitation to go live at Versailles. Voltaire, Marie Antionette, Louis XVI, and Robespierre all received a sitting with the young woman.
Eventually, Marie’s connections to France’s aristocracy made her an enemy of the new French Revolution’s government, and, after a short imprisonment, she had to flee to Britain where she would spend the rest of her life. Before she left in exile, Marie had married a man named Francois and had two sons who lived to adulthood. But it was in Britain that she made the reputation that she continues to enjoy today.
You can see her models for yourselves at one of London’s most visited tourist attractions:
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