Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?

It was not straight out of a fairy tale like the subject herself but do you know that The Little Mermaid Statue was modelled after two women? The statue in Copenhagen, Denmark was indeed modelled after two women. Really? How come?

Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?

Tourists seeing the sculpture for the first time would have mixed reactions. Some would be enthralled that they have laid their eyes upon Copenhagen’s most photographed icon. Others would seem unimpressed as if their expectations have been short-changed. “Is that all there is to it?” they would ask. Love her or not and regardless of people’s reactions or viewpoints, there is a moving and tragic story behind this forlorn looking mermaid.

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Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?
Hans Christian Andersen

First of all, The Little Mermaid was a product of Hans Christian Andersen’s imagination, Denmark’s most prolific story-teller. The fairy tale was written in 1836 and was published in the following year. Since then, it has been adapted to a play, a movie as well as an anime.

The young mermaid lives under the sea with her grandmother, widowed father and five sisters. She was the youngest amongst her siblings. A mermaid is allowed to swim on the waters’ surface when she becomes fifteen. This enabled her to see, probably a fleeting glimpse of the world above them.

One at a time each year, the older sisters took turn visiting the “other” world and observe how humans live. The youngest mermaid eagerly awaits to hear the stories of her older sisters when they return to their kingdom.

Finally, the young mermaid’s turn came. It was her first incursion above waters and she was naturally excited. She saw a ship where a birthday celebration was in progress. The celebrant was a handsome prince with whom she fell in love.

The party’s going well when nature intervened. A storm struck, the ship sank but the mermaid rescued the prince from drowning and possible death. She brought the unconscious prince ashore until help arrived. Unfortunately, the prince never saw the mermaid and was not even aware who his saviour was.

Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?

Back in her own world, she was constantly longing for the prince. The love-struck mermaid visited the Sea Witch who sold her a potion. After drinking it, the mermaid will lose her beautiful voice in exchange for having legs, like human beings. In addition, she will have a human soul if the prince falls in love and tie the knot with her.

However, should the prince marry another woman, the mermaid will die the day after his marriage.

Throwing caution to the wind, the mermaid swam to the surface not far from the prince’s palace. She drank the potion, became mute but she had her legs. To cut the long story short, the prince found her and was captivated by her beauty. She was a graceful dancer and she found favour in the prince’s heart.


via GIPHY

But not all fairy tales end with “and they lived happily ever after.” A cruel twist of fate and a tragedy were waiting to happen.

Ironically, the prince was forced to marry a princess from a different kingdom. The wedding took place on a ship.

It was a remarkably sad day for the young mermaid. Her sisters were very angry. They offer her a knife so she can kill the prince. After killing the prince, the mermaid can have his blood drip on her feet. She will become a mermaid again and return to her underwater kingdom.

She had the opportunity to stab her prince whilst asleep with his new bride. However, the young mermaid did not choose to do so.

Instead, she threw the knife and herself into the sea at dawn. The mermaid lost her life as her body dissolved into a foam. The poor mermaid chose martyrdom over revenge. She sacrificed her life – what a selfless and remarkable character!

Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?
Edvard Eriksen / Credit: mermaidsculpture.dk

Mr Carl Jacobsen, Carlsberg brewery’s head was so moved and enchanted after seeing the ballet version of The Little Mermaid at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. In 1909, he commissioned the sculptor Edvard Eriksen to make a statue of the mermaid.

Nothing beats this undertaking by having a top model for the sculpture, no less than the prima ballerina named Ellen Price who played the heroine. However, she refused to model in the nude but allowed her head to be part of the sculpture.

Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?
Ellen Price / Credit: vsuete.com
Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?
Eline Eriksen / Credit: mermaidsculpture.dk

Eriksen was in a predicament. He cannot do justice to the mermaid’s statue in a head bust only. It has to be the face and the whole body or he doesn’t have a mermaid at all! Lady luck smiled at him as his lady and wife, Eline willingly obliged to model for the statue’s body.

The bronze statue was unveiled on 23 August 1913. It found a home on a rock by the waterfront in Langelinie harbour and since then has become a symbol for Copenhagen. A major tourist attraction, it draws more than a million visitors a year.

Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?
Credit: carlsbergfondet.dk

As with Andersen’s tragic tale, strings of unfortunate incidents continue to haunt Eriksen’s sculpture. Her head, as well as an arm, were sawn off, paint was poured over her and many acts of vandalism were committed up to this day.

So there you go, two women in one sculpture – Ellen and Eline. Amaze your friends on the statue’s behind the scene story and I am sure they would be impressed as much as I was.

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Do You Know that the Little Mermaid Statue was Modelled After Two Women?

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20 Comments

  1. Wow.. That’s so interesting to know. Honestly, I’m only aware of the Disney’s version of the Little Mermaid, where they lived happy ever-after. This definitely put another light to the story for me.. Good to know that the sculptor found another model for the body and managed to create such an iconic piece! Sorry to hear about the constant vandalism and other unfortunate incidents though. People can be rude sometimes.

  2. Now this is history worth reading. I have visited the Little Mermaid and can’t believe how small it was but I didn’t know about the history of it and its being modelled on two females. Fantastic read!

  3. What an extraordinary story. We heard the story but not the part that two models were used for the sculpture. This article has brought me memories of our own trip to Denmark last year.

  4. What a fascinating story! The story of the statue almost lives up to the drama of the fairy tale! A bit different than the Disney version! I can’t imagine the determination it takes to saw off a statue’s head, especially a wet one! But you can’t keep a good mermaid down, I can’t wait to see it for myself. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome! It’s good knowing the story so we can see the statue in a different light. Hope that you’ll see the statue soon.

  5. Its a beautiful sculpture but a tragic story. I don’t know how impressed I would be to see this sculpture in person but it sure helps to have a background story to the statue so that when I see it, I know the lovely little fairy tale behind it. Thanks!

    1. Many tourists seeing the sculpture for the first time would have different reactions. But it’s always good to be armed with some knowledge so we can appreciate this artwork.

  6. I remember reading this story as a kid. I always felt sorry for the mermaid and cursed the blind prince for not recognizing true love. I did not realize that the Copenhagen icon was based on that. I just assumed it was one random one. Thanks for enlightening me.

  7. I am feeling so embarrassed to say that before reading the post I had not even heard about the little mermaid statue. Glad to know the statue’s behind the scene story. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome! I also have no idea about the statue but I was amazed when I learned about the fairy tale and the statue’s behind the scene story.

  8. Being a big fan of Little Mermaid, I did my own research and this is really amazing. I did find the true version of the Little Mermaid as you said. How tragic! But, I am surprised to really find out here that there’s actually 2 models. This is amazing and a very interesting fact. Maybe that’s why in the Disney version, Ursula pretended to look like Ariel.. So there were 2 Ariels? Kinda representing two Little Mermaids… 😀

    1. Amazing and tragic indeed! Disney’s story was based on Andersen’s fairy tale so I’m not surprised if you found some similarities or parallels.

  9. What a fascinating story. The years fell away and I lost myself in the magical world of Hans Christen Andersen. The making of the statue and the two women modelling for it is another intriguing aspect to the fable of the mermaid. Hope to get to see the little mermaid some day.

    1. HC Andersen was Denmark’s most prolific storyteller and I want to read more of his fascinating tales. Hope that you’ll see the statue soon.

  10. What a fascinating background to the actual development of this iconic statue and why it was created with two different models, this was a wonderful story for visitors touring this popular attraction.

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