The Little Mermaid

The statue of The Little Mermaid (Danish: Den lille havfrue) sits on a rock in the harbour of the capital of Denmark. Based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the small and unimposing statue is a Copenhagen icon and a major tourist attraction.

The statue was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg, who had been fascinated by a ballet about the fairytale in Copenhagen's Royal Theatre and asked the primaballerina, Ellen Price, to model for the statue. The sculptor Edvard Eriksen created the bronze statue, which was unveiled on 23 August 1913. The statue's head was modelled after Price, but as the ballerina did not agree to model in the nude, the sculptor's wife Eline Eriksen was used for the body.

The relatively small size of the statue typically surprises tourists visiting Langelinie for the first time. The Little Mermaid statue is only 1.25 metres high and weighs around 175 kg.

There are similarities between the Little Mermaid statue and the Pania of the Reef statue on the beachfront at Napier in New Zealand, and some similarities in the Little Mermaid and Pania tales. The statue of a woman diver (titled "Girl in a Wetsuit" by Elek Imredy) in Vancouver, Canada was placed there when, unable to obtain permission to reproduce the Copenhagen statue, Vancouver authorities selected a modern version.

The Copenhagen City Council decided to move the statue to Shanghai at the Danish Pavilion for the duration of the Expo 2010 (from May to October), the first time it had been moved from its perch since it was installed almost a century earlier.

Vandalism of the statue

This statue has been damaged and defaced many times since the mid-1950s for various reasons, but has each time been restored. In 2007, Copenhagen officials announced that the statue may be moved farther out in the harbour, as to avoid further vandalism and to prevent tourists from climbing onto it.

  • 24 April 1964 – the statue's head was sawn off and stolen by politically oriented artists of the Situationist movement, amongst them Jørgen Nash. The head was never recovered and a new head was produced and placed on the statue.
  • 22 July 1984 – her right arm was sawn off. The arm was returned two days later by two young vandals.
  • 1990 – another attempt was made to cut her head off, which resulted in an 18 cm deep cut in the neck.
  • 6 January 1998 – she was decapitated again, the culprits were never found, but the head was returned anonymously to a nearby TV station, and on 4 February the head was back on.
  • Red paint has been thrown on her several times, including one episode in 1961 where her hair was painted red and a bra was painted on her.
  • 11 September 2003 – the statue was blasted off its rock, possibly with dynamite.
  • In 2004, it was draped in a burqa as a statement against Turkey joining the European Union.
  • March 8, 2006 – a dildo was attached to the statue's hand, green paint was dumped over it, and the words March 8 were written on it. It is suspected that this vandalism has something to do with International Women's Day (which is on March 8).
  • March 3, 2007 – the statue was again covered with pink paint.
  • May 2007 – the statue was covered with paint by vandals.
  • May 20, 2007 – it was found draped in a Muslim dress and head scarf.


The statue displayed in Copenhagen harbour has always been a copy; the sculptor's heirs keep the original at an undisclosed location. Undamaged copies of the statue are located in Solvang, California; Kimballton, Iowa;Piatra Neamţ, Romania and in Weihai, China outside the old Danish consulate.

The grave of Danish-American entertainer Victor Borge, includes a copy as well.

There is a copy located in the Family Mausoleum Development of the Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas, Texas that was made by a Danish cemetery gardener. Some obvious differences from the original can be observed: the wrist and hand on her lap are not resting at the same angle, the copy is not as muscular/defined, and the knees are separated.

There is a copy of the statue, in front the Brazilian navy building, at esplanada dos ministérios, Brasília, Brazil.

A copy of the statue forms the Danish contribution to the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City. The half-size replica was stolen on 26 February 2010, but was recovered on 7 April, evidently abandoned in the park after the thief became nervous about being caught with it.

Copyright issues

The statue is still under copyright, and several copies of the statue have provoked legal threats.

A replica was installed in Greenville, Michigan in 1994 to celebrate the town's Danish heritage. The statue cost $10,000. In 2009 the town was sued by the Artists Rights Society claiming the work violated Eriksen's copyright, and asking for a $3,800 licensing fee. At only 30 inches (76 cm) in height, the replica in Greenville is half the size of the original, and has a different face and larger breasts as well as other distinguishing factors.

Vancouver, Canada has a statue based on the mermaid titled 'Girl in a Wetsuit'. They were forced to change their plans to have a direct copy after they failed to gain permission to do so.

Iconic statues

The Mermaid falls into a category of iconic statues that cities have come to regard as mascots, or as embodiments of the spirit of a place, among these are the Manneken Pis in Brussels. In several cases, cities have commissioned statues for the purpose.

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