Unimposing, adorable, spectacular, disappointing, captivating, fairy tale-like are some of the words frequently heard when people characterise the tiny lady, also known as The Little Mermaid, sitting all by herself as a statue on a solid granite stone at Langelinie in Copenhagen, emerging out of the universe of a famous Hans Christian Andersen story.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 23 AUG 2020
Inspired by the story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid statue was created as a gift from the renowned brewer Carl Jacobsen from the Carlsberg Breweries in Denmark – and was unveiled on August 23 1913. Ever since it has stood at its location at Langelinie, receiving visitors from all over the world.
Today, The Little Mermaid has become an iconic top tourist attraction, as well as a popular landmark in Copenhagen… So why was the statue originally conceived and what is the true story behind?
The brewer Carl Jacobsen became deeply fascinated by a ballet performance in 1909 at The Royal Theatre, namely the ballet about the delightful little mermaid. Subsequently, he asked the female ballet dancer in the lead role, Ellen Price, if she would model for the statue. Unfortunately, the ballerina declined to be a nude model.
Instead the sculptor Edvard Eriksen, who was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen to undertake the task, used his own wife, Eline Eriksen, as the willing model who posed for the The Little Mermaid sculpture.
The statue was produced in pure bronze, and The Little Mermaid found its place at Langelinie in Copenhagen, where she still sits gazing into the sea, welcoming visitors from near and far to Copenhagen and to Denmark.
It is eye-catching that The Little Mermaid statue is twin-tailed, whereas most other mermaids usually are described, depicted and modelled as single-tailed.
Although seemingly small, her size in fact exceeds the size of a normal person by about 25%. Surprisingly, it is the context in Copenhagen Harbour with its impressive natural elements which creates an optical illusion and makes the statue look much smaller than it in fact is.
Only smaller sculptures were by Edvard Eriksen allowed to be created around the world as copies of the original Little Mermaid, such that Copenhagen unambiguously would hold the most impressive and authentic statue.
Numerous times has the statue been exposed to vandalism. At several occasions has she had her head or an arm removed, and The Little Mermaid has also been subject to acts involving paint. Anyway, every time she has had the missing parts replaced and been restored back to the original state.
In 1837 the famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) wrote the fabled story ‘The Little Mermaid’ which was published by C. A. Reitzel in Copenhagen as part of the collection Fairy tales told for children.
The tale of Danish origin is about an adorable young mermaid, out of a family of six motherless mermaid sisters, who live with their father, the sea king, and their grandmother in an underwater world of mermaids and mermen. At the age of fifteen her grandmother lets her swim to the surface to observe life above the sea. The Little Mermaid then discovers a prince inside a royal sailing ship who is the precise same prince that she keeps a statue of in her underwater garden made of various parts of wrecked ships. Seemingly, they celebrate his birthday on board the ship.
However, shortly after the ship with the prince sinks in a disastrous storm, where only the prince survives, thanks to the mermaid. She is aware that he as a human cannot live underwater and takes him to a nearby temple. Anyway, before her identity is revealed, she flees, and instead a young woman happens to be at the prince’s side when he regains consciousness. He then believes that it was this woman who rescued him.
A sea witch now appears with a potion that can transform The Little Mermaid’s tail into proper legs, such that she can walk on land and get acquainted with the handsome prince, whom she is now deeply attracted to. The disadvantage or price is that she will have to give up her beautiful voice and no longer will be able to sing, and her feet will hurt every time she takes a step. Moreover, in order to become ‘human’ and make her soul mortal, she will need to make the prince fall in love with her and marry her. If not, she will die.
The Little Mermaid is so desperate to marry the prince that she gives up her mermaid life. She drinks the liquid and passes out. It is now the prince’s turn to find her. However, when meeting the prince, she cannot explain to him that she was the one who rescued him, since she is now mute.
The prince is soon hereafter supposed to marry a princess in a neighbouring kingdom, who turns out to be precisely the girl who found him after he was brought ashore. The prince is convinced that he can only love the one who rescued him, who he now believes is the foreign princess, and he happily accepts to marry her.
The Little Mermaid now realises that she will die since she has failed to gain his love. Her mermaid sisters now bring her a magical dagger they have received from the sea witch in exchange for their hair. Their poor sister is now supposed to plunge it into the prince’s heart, such that his blood will fall onto her feet and merge together into a fish tail. She will then be able to return to the underwater world again.
Although tempting, the little mermaid cannot kill the prince and destroy the marriage between the prince and the princess. Determined, she throws the dagger into the sea, and immediately she dissolves into foam and becomes a daughter of the air. Miraculously, she is now told that she has the chance to gain an eternal soul by providing cooling breezes to the hot winds around the globe for three centuries. She may even shorten the period if she finds children who bring credit to their parents, whereas she will extend it if the children bring shame on them instead.
Hans Christian Andersen ends the contemplative story of The Little Mermaid here – leaving it for the reader’s interpretation.
The Little Mermaid Disney film is an animated musical fantasy film from 1989, produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Pictures. It was based loosely on The Little Mermaid story written by Hans Christian Andersen.
In the film the famous story about the underwater mermaid is animated. A mermaid princess Ariel fantasises about getting a human body and falls in love with the prince Eric. Through magic a sea witch makes her dream come true. The film was written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.
If possible at all, The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen seemingly got even more fame after the premiere of the Disney film. It won two Academy Awards for Best Song (‘Under the Sea’) and Best Original Music Score. Probably, it contributed to a Disney Renaissance which made the animated films come alive again.
Not just one, but two video sequels (The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea and The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning) actually succeeded! So did an animated television series.
As an interesting fact, The Little Mermaid is the last Disney feature film using hand-painting. Later films made use of a digital method to colour and combine pictures.
Hans Christian Andersen and his adorable mermaid statue are known worldwide! The fairy tale is an absolutely unique story, and many people have have both read the renowned story and come to Copenhagen to see the spectacular mermaid statue!
Indeed, Hans Christian Andersen and his Little Mermaid have achieved world fame! Believe it or not – The Little Mermaid story has today been translated into more than 125 distinct languages!
The statue has also been subject to the creation of copies. Around the world a certain number of identical mermaid statues have been erected. Only visible difference is the size. The Copenhagen Little Mermaid is nearly always larger than the copies, and it definitely should be, provided the copies comply with the rules imposed by the creator.
Copies of the nude Copenhagen Little Mermaid statue can be found for example in California, Iowa, Romania, Madrid, Seoul and South Korea. Worldwide at least 13 complete copies exist. Calgary in Canada has a half-sized copy, and the grave of the Danish-American entertainer Victor Borge features a copy as well!
Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense in 1805. He lost his father when he was only 11, and his mother then made an effort to provide him with even three apprenticeships: as a weaver, as a tobacconist and as a tailor. However, he didn’t show enough motivation and interest in any of these to continue one of these paths. He was attracted by books, stories and plays and sought for opportunities within one of these fields.
When he was 14, he decided to move to Copenhagen to seek employment as an actor. In the beginning he earned a bit by singing in a choir at The Royal Theatre.
A few years later, he came across the director of The Royal Theatre, Jonas Collins, who was impressed by the plays that Hans Christian Andersen wrote. He arranged for the young man to go to school in Slagelse and Elsinore, and made arrangements such that his education was paid for by King Frederik VI. Later, he was given a private tutor who saw to that Andersen prepared for the entrance examination to Copenhagen University.
From that time his career took off. He wrote plays, poems and travelogues from his frequent trips through Europe. He travelled a lot of the time and is known for the quotation: ‘To travel is to live’.
In 1835 Andersen published the first part of the collection ‘Fairy tales told for children‘ – including the stories The Tinder Box, Little Claus and Big Claus, The Princess and the Pea and Little Ida’s Flowers. Two more parts followed during the next couple of years, including famous fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid story, The Emperor’s New Clothes and Thumbelina.
Between 1845 and 1864, Hans Christian Andersen resided in Copenhagen in the narrow house at Nyhavn No. 67. Today, there is a memorial plaque on this building. He also lived for a short period at Nyhavn No. 18 (1871-1875).
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