For more than 100 years, a small bronze statue gazing out to sea has been one of Copenhagen’s top tourist attractions. The Little Mermaid by Edvard Eriksen depicts a mermaid becoming human and is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale of the same name.
The famous fairy tale follows the journey of a young mermaid who falls in love with a prince and wants to gain a human soul. It subverts the norms of the literary form by telling a tragic tale with a happy ending.
Loved by children worldwide, the tale is arguably Andersen’s most famous work, although the famous sculpture and the 1989 Disney animated movie play major roles in that status. Next year’s live action movie remake is sure to bring the iconic tale to a whole new generation.
A surprisingly small attraction
Unlike Rio’s Christ The Redeemer or New York City’s Statue of Liberty, Copenhagen’s iconic sculpture is tiny. At just over four feet tall, the sculpture’s diminutive stature surprises many visitors.
The sculpture stands on a waterfront rock at Langelinie promenade. Long a popular walking spot for Copenhagen locals, the promenade stretches between the Øresund coast and the citadel Kastellet.
Its close proximity to the DFDS ferry from Oslo and the port for smaller cruise ships means the sculpture has become a must-see for many visitors to Copenhagen. It’s often surrounded by hordes of tourists keen to get a picture.
The story of the statue
It was neither Andersen nor Eriksen who instigated the sculpture’s creation. Carl Jacobsen, the son of Carlsberg founder J. C. Jacobsen and the man responsible for the transformation of the brewery into a global player, was also a keen art collector and philanthropist.
After attending a ballet based on the fairy tale, he commissioned the sculpture and asked ballerina Ellen Price to model. Although Eriksen based the head on Price, he based the naked body on his own wife as Price became uncomfortable when she realised how much public attention the sculpture would get.
The sculpture has stood in the same spot for more than 100 years, with one major exception. In 2010, the sculpture was temporarily relocated to Shangai to play a starring role in the Danish Pavilion at Expo 2010.
A popular spot for protests
Despite depicting a beloved character from a children’s fairy tale, the sculpture has become a popular site for vandalism and political protests over the years.
The day after the Danish national men’s football team qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the sculpture was targeted by human rights protestors. As Danish media and fans celebrated qualification, the sculpture wore a Denmark hat with a sign reading: “15,000 dead in Qatar, hooray for the World Cup” in Danish.
The incident was just one in a long line of protests, which have included two decapitations, anti-whaling messages, pro-vegan campaigns and political protests over Iraq, Hong Kong and Ukraine, among others.
Although Copenhagen authorities have considered moving the sculpture farther out into the harbour in order to discourage further vandalism and protests, she remains in place.