The Little Mermaid, cultural ambassador

Carolyn Kelly Art

Last Thursday, Copenhagen’s city council voted to allow the city’s landmark statue of the Little Mermaid to travel to Shanghai for display at the World Expo in 2010. Based on the figure in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale, the Little Mermaid was sculpted by Edvard Eriksen after a commission from Carl Jacobsen in 1909, and has been perched at Langelinie Quay overlooking the city’s harbor since being donated to the city in 1913, where it has become one of the city’s most popular attractions and the symbol of Copenhagen itself. This will be the Mermaid’s first trip outside of the city. In Shanghai she will be the centerpiece of the Danish pavilion, which has been designed to include a large basin filled with seawater shipped from Copenhagen to surround the statue.

It has been reported that many Danes, particularly waterfront shopkeepers, were dismayed by the decision arguing that it will be a substantial loss to the city’s tourism during the statue’s eight-month absence. To compensate, a proposal is in the works to have a Chinese artist create a contemporary reinterpretation of the Little Mermaid to be exhibited in her place.

Several reproductions of the statue already exist, and one of them will be auctioned by Lyon & Turnbull next month (April 8, Blenheim Palace). This version, a 2/3 cast signed and dated by Eriksen from 1948, is well-traveled.  The statue, originally made in Denmark, was purchased by a South African wine merchant and installed at his estate there. It moved with the family to England in the 1960s, first to West Sussex, then to London, and then to Gloucestershire. The sculptor’s niece, Alice Eriksen, notes, “This particular mermaid is interesting as she is among the first ones produced and therefore sits on a rock-later models sit on a bronze base.” The statue has an estimate of 15,000-20,000 euros.