Little Mermaid Statue

Denmark’s Little Mermaid: 25 things you should know about the story and statue

Hans Christian Andersen is a familiar name across the world, and one of the most beloved Danish authors. His story, Den Lille Havfrue, (The Little Mermaid) is possibly the best known work of any Danish author outside of Denmark.

Much of the recognition is due to the statue which bears the same name. Resting at the water’s edge in Langelinie at the northeast end of Copenhagen harbor, The Little Mermaid sculpture has kept her vigil since 1913, and is by far the most visited site in Denmark.

Here are 25 things you need to know about the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen…

1. She really is little, but she is not very light

The Little Mermaid statue is just 49.2 inches (125cm). She weighs in at 365lbs (165.5kg) because she is made of cast bronze and her pedestal is made of granite.

2. The Little Mermaid story was published in 1837

The Little Mermaid story, written by Hans Christian Andersen was published 76 years prior to the unveiling of the Little Mermaid statue in 1913.

3. The founder of Carlsberg Beer, Carl Jacobsen, is responsible for The Little Mermaid statue

Carl Jacobsen—founder of Carlsberg beer—commissioned the statue after attending the Royal Ballet in Copenhagen 1909. There he watched ballerina Ellen Price dance the role of The Little Mermaid. Jacobsen was so enchanted by the story and the dancing that he returned to watch the ballet several times.

Already a patron of the arts, Jacobsen envisioned The Little Mermaid as a statue to commemorate both the author and the story.

4. Edvard Eriksen was the sculptor

Commissioned by Carl Jacobsen to create the statue, Edvard Eriksen was tasked with attending The Little Mermaid ballet, which he did several times. In doing so, he was also convinced that ballerina Ellen Price must be the model for the statue.

5. Ballerina Ellen Price refused to pose for The Little Mermaid statue

When asked to pose for the statue, Ellen Price refused. Her refusal was not from a sense of modesty or propriety, as some have implied. Ellen Price was a beloved and famous solo dancer in the Royal Ballet.

When Edvard Eriksen asked her to model for the statue, she replied flatly “A Royal solo dancer is not a model for an artist.” Sitting for a sculptor was beneath her status as a Royal Ballerina.

6. Ellen Price agreed The Little Mermaid could have her head

After some consideration, Ellen Price understood the promotional benefits of offering use of her visage for the statue. Edvard Eriksen agreed that Ellen Price would model the face and head of his Little Mermaid sculpture, and would have another model for the body.

Eline Eriksen, wife of Edvard, was the body of The Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid Statue

7. The Little Mermaid statue wasn’t a big deal at first

The sculpture was unveiled on August 23, 1913 after taking over three years to complete. While it was admired as both a fine sculpture and as homage to Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, its popularity was minimal for several years.

Other attractions in the area, like the Gefion fountain, received far more attention and visitors.

8. Her surge in popularity began in the 1930s

Reacting to the increasing political and financial troubles throughout Europe in the 1930s, Denmark began a marketing campaign that portrayed the country as a peaceful and bucolic retreat.

As part of the marketing campaign, photographs of The Little Mermaid statue were widely published. Her image became synonymous with Denmark as a travel destination.

9. The 1950s sealed The Little Mermaid’s fame

After the war, the Danish tourism bureau was again trying to draw visitors to the country still recovering economically from the German occupation during WWII. Another marketing campaign again placed The Little Mermaid front and center, which resulted in another surge in popularity.

In 1959, sculptor Edvard Eriksen died. His family retained the copyright to The Little Mermaid statue and has since held the rights to any and all reproductions and representations. Because the image became a protected commodity, it also became a sought after commodity.

10. Edvard Eriksen wasn’t just about The Little Mermaid

When Carl Jacobsen commissioned Eriksen, he was already an accomplished sculptor in Denmark. Most famously, he was commissioned to carve a double sarcophagus from marble for Queen Louise of Denmark. The sarcophagus rests in Roskilde Cathedral where many of the Danish royalty are interred.

Eriksen also created reliefs in sandstone on the north and south-facing facades of the Carlsberg Glyptoteket art museum in Copenhagen, and was commissioned to create Colossus statues for King Christian IX.

11. The Little Mermaid statue is not the original

Like most bronze statues, The Little Mermaid statue is cast from molten bronze in a mold. So there have been multiple identical statues created. The first was kept by her creator Edvard Eriksen until his death.

At that time, the Eriksen family retained the original along with its copyright. As many as 13 statues have been created under explicit copyright authorization. Some are in private collections and others on public display in multiple countries.

12. The Little Mermaid has traveled the world

In 2010, The Little Mermaid statue was removed from her rock in Langelinie, Copenhagen and sent to China. She was on display for 6 months at the World Exposition in Shanghai where she rested in a pool of water brought from the Copenhagen harbor.

During her time away from Denmark, a display created by China’s famed artist Ai Weiwei stood in her place as a goodwill cultural exchange.

13. The original Little Mermaid statue has made a public appearance

While The Little Mermaid from the Copenhagen harbor was visiting China, the Eriksen family agreed to display their copy, which had belonged to Edvard Eriksen, at Tivoli Gardens.

Unlike the harbor statue, this original was placed in the middle of a moat and guarded to prevent vandalism. It is 4/5 the size of the harbor Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid Statue

14. Vandalism? The Little Mermaid has seen her share.

1961 – A bra and underpants were painted on her. Her hair was painted red.

1964 – She was beheaded. Neither the head nor the culprit was located. In 1997, Danish ‘provocateur’ artist Joergen Nash claimed in his memoir that he had beheaded her and thrown the head into Utterslev Mose Lake. No attempt was made to verify the claim.

1984 – Her right arm was cut off by teenagers, but was returned two days later.

1990 – There was an attempted beheading. While unsuccessful, it created an 18cm gash in her neck. The culprits were not found.

1998 – She was again beheaded. Conflicting stories claim the culprits were either a radical feminist group attempting to make a political statement about the commodification of female bodies, or a photographer who was attempting to generate publicity for his photos.

Three days after the beheading, the head was left outside a local television station. The photographer was briefly under arrest, but no charges were filed.

2003 – She was blown off her pedestal with explosives, and was found in the water nearby.

2017 – She was covered in red paint to protest the killing of whales in the Faroe Islands. It should be noted that the Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Every year during the summer months of June and July, highly regulated whale hunting is permitted. The practice is extremely controversial within Denmark.

Various – On several occasions, she has been dressed and had props attached in either protest or support of political and cultural controversies. Most recently, ‘racist fish’ was painted on her pedestal July 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests.

15. Moving The Little Mermaid statue

Since the 1980s, there has been talk of relocating The Little Mermaid further into the harbor. Close up viewing could still be achieved by tour boat.

While The Little Mermaid would remain clearly visible from shore, the less accessible location could prevent future vandalism.

While some Danes favor the idea, many others feel that relocating the statue further into the harbor would not necessarily protect it from vandals, given the availability of boats in Denmark and the shallow harbor waters.

16. The Little Mermaid has legs instead of a tail (mostly)

Somewhere in the conversations between Carl Jacobsen and Edvard Eriksen, a compromise was made between whether The Little Mermaid sculpture would have a tail or legs. The sculpture is witness to the moment of her transformation, immediately after she has drunk the witch’s potion.

Her legs are mostly formed, but traces of the mermaid tail remain around her lower legs and feet. Grieving for all she has lost, but hopeful for what is to come, she stares at the shore in silence searching for her prince. She will forever be The Little Mermaid, even though her form is now mostly human.

Little Mermaid Statue

17. The Little Mermaid statue is Denmark’s Number 1 tourist attraction (by far)

The Little Mermaid sculpture draws over 5 million visitors annually, across all seasons and in all types of weather. It is a small mystery how such an unassuming statue is the most sought-after tourist experience in Denmark, but the reality is that it is quintessentially Danish.

The Little Mermaid is a diminutive convergence of Danish literature, art, theatre, business, history, and culture.

18. Where is the statue of The Little Mermaid located?

In the 1960’s, popular postcards sold to tourists had an image of The Little Mermaid sculpture with a MAERSK cargo ship sailing behind her in the distance.

The Little Mermaid sits on a large granite stone at the water’s edge, a short walk from MAERSK headquarters in Langelinie, on the northeast harbor of Copenhagen.  The easiest way to find her is to ask Google maps.

19. Viewing The Little Mermaid statue

The Little Mermaid is easily accessible from both land and sea. The following are popular tours which include The Little Mermaid sculpture as a stop on the itinerary.

Tour guides provide interesting details and historical information about Copenhagen’s most famous landmark, as well as a fun afternoon exploring the highlights of Denmark’s capital city.

For the casual traveler, The Little Mermaid statue can be visited independently from the walking path along the water.

The area of Langelinie is easily accessible with many other traveler must-sees within walking distance of the Little Mermaid, including Gefion Fountain, the “Genetically Altered Paradise” sculpture garden, Kastellet fortress, and MAERSK shipping headquarters.

Across the harbor, the Amalienborg Castle and the Royal Danish Opera House can be seen.

20. The story does not take place in Denmark

While The Little Mermaid story and image are inextricably linked to Denmark, the book by Hans Christian Andersen does not take place in his Scandinavian home country.

Location is not specifically mentioned, but clues within the book put the likeliest location in the Mediterranean near the coast of Italy.

Descriptions of sunshine and warm seas, and summer night sailing adventures provide clues to the location. Summer nights in Denmark are bright and would have no long stretches of dark near midnight as is described in the story.

Alternatively, night sailing in other seasons would be too cold on the water to attend a ship deck in delicate dresses and light party attire.

21. She is no longer alone

Edvard Eriksen’s beloved sculpture is no longer the only Little Mermaid in Langelinie. Since 2006, the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid has kept her company from a half-mile distance.

Resting on a pile of rocks in the middle of the water, this post-modern send up is part of a sculpture installation created by Bjørn Nørgaard, a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

His “Genetically Altered Paradise” also includes sculptures of biblical figures Adam, Eve, Mary Magdalene, and Christ, as well as Pregnant Man.

22. The Little Mermaid was not Carl Jacobsen’s only artistic patronage

Jacobsen considered it his personal calling to use his fortune and influence to serve the arts.  He developed and helped curate the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an internationally renowned museum in Copenhagen that houses exquisite works of art and hosts traveling collections from around the world.

23. Hans Christian Andersen never saw The Little Mermaid sculpture

The author of The Little Mermaid story had no direct connection with the statue’s creation and legacy. Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story which inspired the ballet, which in turn inspired Carl Jacobsen and Edvard Eriksen to create the sculpture.

But neither his descendants nor his literary estate have any involvement with the statue. Andersen died in August 1875, so would never know of its development and creation from 1909 to 1913.

24. The Little Mermaid story was written because the author was heartbroken

The Little Mermaid is, among other themes, a story of unrequited love. Hans Christian Andersen had been desperately in love with Edvard Collin when he learned Collin did not reciprocate his feelings.

Upon receiving news that Collin was to be married, Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid. He poured his anguish and disillusionment into the story of a little mermaid in love with a human prince who will never love her in return.

In doing so, he created the most recognizable tale of unrequited love over the past two centuries.

25. The current ending is a rewrite

When The Little Mermaid was first published, the story ended with her dissolving into sea foam — her punishment for being unsuccessful in winning the love of her Prince.

Later, Hans Christian Andersen rewrote the ending, so that in her act of selflessness (she refused to kill the prince in order to regain her life under the sea) she was granted an after death invitation to become an ethereal “daughter of the air.”

By doing good deeds for 300 years, the Little Mermaid might one day win an immortal soul.

Why does the world love The Little Mermaid?

The Little Mermaid, both the story and the sculpture, continues to resonate with people all over the world. Hans Christian Andersen was an extremely successful writer. His published writings include plays, poems, novels, and fairy tales of which there are 156.

His works have been translated into 125 languages with countless theater productions, ballets, live action movies, animated films, and television shows owing their existence to his works.

Andersen’s fairy tales are for what he is best known. His descriptive prose presents a clear window into the wonder and pain of life, as well as the absurdity of human behavior.

In stories like The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes, we feel the shame and self-doubt of the ostracized baby swan and we rankle with embarrassment on behalf of the emperor.

But of all the fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid is perhaps the most captivating because it is about the most beautiful yet painful aspect of human existence: love.

The Little Mermaid story is about love in all of its manifestations: romantic, enduring, familial, love from afar, self-love, friendship, passion, obsessive, and universal. It is a talented writer that can weave all 9 into a 75 page story about a Little Mermaid who doesn’t even have a name.

It takes an equally brilliant artist to create a sculpture imbued with those same qualities. Edvard Eriksen’s Little Mermaid rests at the water’s edge, her tail’s transformation into legs nearly complete.

She is balanced between what she has lost and what she hopes to gain. She is eternally frozen in the moment when love and longing are the only things that exist within the human heart.

For the millions that have visited and the millions more that will visit this small bronze statue in the northeast harbor of Copenhagen, Denmark, it is no secret why she is adored. The Little Mermaid represents that singular moment in every human experience which, in one form or another, marks us as forever changed.

She exists eternally in that moment, anticipating only goodness, even while she is mourning for all she has lost. The brilliance of The Little Mermaid story and sculpture is her fearless and enduring humanity.

One more thing…

There is another Little Mermaid statue in Asaa

In the small harbor town of Asaa, on the northeast coast of the Jutland peninsula, a granite statue which bears a striking resemblance to Edvard Eriksen’s Little Mermaid was installed in 2017. While the artist, Palle Mork, denies his statue resembles its world famous counterpart, Eriksen’s heirs feel differently.

They filed for copyright infringement and requested the statue be removed. While it can be argued that the pose, hair, and overall countenance of the Asaa sculpture are similar to the original Little Mermaid statue, the artist says any similarities are merely coincidental.

As of this writing, the doppelganger has yet not been removed.

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