Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story about a little mermaid who fell in love with a handsome prince. In order to be able to walk on the land and be with her prince, she struck a deal with a witch - of the wicked variety, unfortunately. The witch changed her tail into legs in return for her tongue. Walking on her new legs caused her great pain and being now mute, she also experienced some difficulty in communicating her love to him. It was a poor bargain she had made. As ever, it all ended in tears for she never got to be with her prince.
The statue shows her sitting on a rock at the entrance to the harbour at Langelinje, remembering with sadness her earlier life as a mermaid, while still pining for her prince.
The brewer Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg fame, presented the statue to the city in 1913. He had been much taken by a young dancer Ellen Price, whom he had seen perform in the ballet The Little Mermaid and asked her to pose for the sculptor Edvard Erichsen. In the end Miss Price declined the honour, having scruples about being eternally exposed nude in public and the figure is actually modelled on the artist's wife.
Every visitor to Copenhagen goes to see the Little Mermaid. Sadly many insist on being photographed beside her and climbing up, giving her a mottled appearance where the copper patina has worn off and taking away some, though not all, of her quiet dignity.