The Little Mermaid statue was a present from brewer Carl Jacobsen (The Carlsberg Breweries) to the city of Copenhagen, made by a then little known sculptor called Edvard Erichsen. The Little Mermaid was unveiled at Langelinje in 1913, as part of a general trend in Copenhagen in those days, selecting classical and historical figures to be used as decorations in the city's parks and public areas.
In 1909, brewer Carl Jacobsen saw solo dancer Ellen Price dance in Fini Henriques' ballet "The Little Mermaid" at the Royal Theatre. He was so taken with her that he asked her if she would pose for a statue. She agreed in principle, but was not very interested in posing without any clothes on, when she found out just how public the statue would be. Instead sculptor Edvard Erichsen's wife stepped in and modeled for the body. On September 14, 1912, the Little Mermaid statue was first placed at a test location, and on August 23, 1913, at its current and permanent site. The statue's birthday is celebrated in various ways every year on August 23. Throughout the year, 75% of all tourists visiting Copenhagen go to see The Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid symbolizes the fairy tale by Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen, the story of a young mermaid who fell in love with a prince who lived on land, and often came up to the edge of the water to look for her love.
The sculpture pictures her as she sits and looks out over the water, after having gotten legs and come on land, never actually having married the prince, and reminiscing over her childhood and lost life in the sea, as a mermaid.
The story of The Little Mermaid is not a very happy one - she visits a witch and agrees to give the witch her tongue, in exchange for legs to replace her fish tail, so she can live on land with her love, the prince she's seen from her visits to the shore. And every step she takes on her new legs hurt like she is walking on swords. To be with her love she chooses to become a mute and to be in pain with every step she takes. Yet despite alle her dreams and sacrifices she never gets to be with him.
The sculptor has taken a certain "poetic license" when creating The Little Mermaid. She has part legs, part fish tail, although the story by Hans Christian Andersen clearly defines when she has a fish tail and when she has legs. The hybrid leg/tail arrangement was probably done to make it easier to figure out who she is.
The Little Mermaid has been away from her usual location from April till November 2010, being the main attraction at the Danish pavillion at the 2010 World Fair in Shanghai, China. Since November 20 she is back in her place in Copenhagen Harbor for all visitors to enjoy.