Little Mermaid


New York has its Lady Liberty and Sydney its (Danish-designed) Opera House. When the world thinks of Copenhagen, the chances are they're thinking of the Little Mermaid. Love her or loathe her (watch Copenhageners cringe at the very mention of her), this small, underwhelming statue is arguably the most photographed sight in the country, as well as the cause of countless 'Is that it?' shrugs from tourists who have trudged the kilometre or so along an often windswept harbourfront to see her.

In 1909 the Danish beer baron Carl Jacobsen was so moved after attending a ballet performance based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Mermaid that he commissioned sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create a statue of the eponymous lady-fish to grace Copenhagen's harbourfront. The face of the famous statue was modelled after the ballerina Ellen Price, while Eline Eriksen, the sculptor's wife, modelled for the body.

The Little Mermaid survived the Great Depression and the WWII occupation unscathed, but modern times haven't been so kind to Denmark's leading lady, with several decapitations and lost limbs at the hands of vandals and protesters trying to make various political points.

Partly in response to this, Carlsberg commissioned Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard to create a new Little Mermaid in 2006. The result is a 'genetically altered' mermaid, sitting only a few hundred metres from the original. While there's no doubt that Eriksen's creation may be the prettier sibling, Nørgaard's misshapen creation is arguably truer in spirit to Andersen's rather bleak, twisted fairy tale, in which the fish-tailed protagonist is physically and emotionally tormented…and never gets her man.

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