The Little Mermaid

I am home in Vancouver, Canada and have just come back from a visit to Stanley Park, one of the city’s most popular and visited attractions. In this wonderful and lush park you will find totem poles, an aquarium, a rose garden, a sea wall, bike trails, pools, playgrounds, not to mention a multitude of monuments and statues.

One of these statues is a life-size, bronze statue of a woman in a wetsuit, with flippers on her feet and a diving mask on her forehead. The statue is, appropriately, called Girl in a Wetsuit. Looking at her, as she sat on her boulder in the harbour, she was a striking resemblance of the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen – which is, of course, one of Denmark’s main tourist attractions. I found that quite interesting, so I did some research, and learned that there was an obvious reason behind the similarity.

As it turns out, the Little Mermaid was, in fact, the initial inspiration behind the Girl in a Wetsuit statue. In 1968, a Vancouver lawyer, Douglas Brown, had a wish to commission Elek Imredy to make a sculpture, replicating the Little Mermaid. His idea was to have it placed on the great granite boulder off the northern shore of Stanley Park. When they were denied permission to reproduce the Danish statue, Imredy proposed to make a life-size, female scuba diver instead.

The idea was approved and Imredy’s friend, Debra Harrington, posed as his model. It was unveiled in June 1972 and has since become a landmark in the park. However, no way near to the extent of the Little Mermaid, in Denmark, where she is a cultural icon.

The Danish statue, unveiled in 1913, was sculpted by Edward Eriksen, who used prima ballerina, Ellen Price as the model for the mermaid’s head, and his wife, Eline, as the model for the body (Ellen Price refused to model in the nude).

Since her unveiling, the mermaid has been a repeat victim of vandalism – she had been beheaded several times, lost an arm and been drenched in paint seven times. She travelled for the first time in her life this year. In May, she was transported from her Copenhagen-Harbour home to Shanghai for Expo 2010, where she was on display until Oct. 20th.

During the six months she was abroad, a big screen (streaming live footage of her in Shanghai) was mounted on her rock in the harbour. I couldn’t help giggle when I saw this ‘virtual’ version of her for myself during a trip there in August.

Many people here in North America don’t know that the Little Mermaid is Danish! They think that she is a Disney creation because of the animated film they made about her in 1989. The Little Mermaid statue is actually based on the fairy tale written in 1836 by the well-known Danish poet and author, Hans Christian Andersen.

Incidentally, while we are on the topic of Hans Christian Andersen and sculptures; did you know there is a life-size bronze statue of him in Málaga at Plaza de la Marin? It was commissioned by the Danish Royal family and was given to Málaga city as a gift from Denmark. Princess Benedikte inaugurated the statue on June 14th, 2005.

Hans Christian Andersen was a passionate traveller and visited Málaga in 1862. He was so impressed by it that, in his book In Spain he wrote, “In no other Spanish city have I been as happy and comfortable as in Málaga.” Well, I could say the same about Almuñécar.

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