On a blustery day last week, Tina Pedersen and Jens Poulsen, two Danes on vacation, posed for photos next to a mermaid statue. In a way, the sculpture looked familiar: perched on a rock next to a harbor, the mermaid supported the weight of her bare torso on one arm, and her fishtail was delicately curled. But Pedersen and Poulsen weren’t in Copenhagen, but on their way to a tourist beach on the other side of Denmark.
“We heard on the radio that the owner of the ‘Little Mermaid’ is demanding it be destroyed,” Pedersen said. “So we thought we better come meet her while we could.”
The mermaid that has been watching over the harbor in the village of Asaa in northern Denmark since 2016 is not exactly a replica of the famous landmark in the country’s capital. But for the heirs of Edvard Eriksen, the artist who sculpted the Copenhagen statue, that of Asaa is too similar. They started a lawsuit demanding not only financial compensation, but also that the second sculpture be destroyed.
“When I got the email, I laughed,” says Mikael Klitgaard, mayor of Broenderslev, a municipality that includes Asaa. “I thought it was a joke.”
But Eriksen’s inventor is not kidding. He has a long history of jealous protection of license rights in image and sculpture, which depict a character in a short story by Hans Christian Andersen. Alice Eriksen, the artist’s granddaughter and estate supervisor, declined to comment. “The case is ongoing.”
Lawyers for both sides are still negotiating, but whether the case goes to trial will likely depend on how much Asaa’s mermaid resembles that of Copenhagen’s Langelinie port since 1913, when beer mogul and philanthropist Carl Jacobsen gave her gave a gift to the city.
The sculpture, one of the capital’s most visited attractions, is made of bronze and depicts a little mermaid resting her weight on her right arm, with her tail curled on the opposite side.
Made of granite and weighing 3 tons, Asaa’s mermaid is more plump and has coarser features. Its position, however, is the same.
“How else could she sit down?” Klitgaard asks. “She’s a mermaid. You can’t put her on a chair.”
Asaa’s Mermaid was created by Palle Moerk, a local artist and mason who carves tombstones and figurative statues – human hands gesturing (obscene or otherwise) are one of her favorite subjects. He had sculpted the mermaid four years before it was purchased by a group of Asaa citizens and donated to the port administration on its 140th birthday.
The artist says he didn’t like the cost of copying. “As an artist you absorb all kinds of stuff – and, of course, I had seen pictures of Langelinie’s mermaid. But that was my own inspiration.”
After buying a large block of granite, he had left it in his yard, not knowing what he was going to carve. One night the muse came and he quickly drew the mermaid on a piece of paper he kept by his bed. “Sometimes the stone speaks to you,” he said.
The idea that his siren could be eliminated disturbs him. “I didn’t think we would destroy any artwork in Denmark. It’s something the Taliban are doing.”
As Eriksen’s estate seeks DKK 37,000 (£ 31,000) in damages, Moerk and Klitgaard said they believed the lawsuit was motivated by greed. Copyright on the estate will expire in 2029 – 70 years after the artist’s death – and, according to the mayor, they “try to get paid before that.”
As early as 1937, Eriksen successfully sued a craft business for producing embroidery designs with the mermaid, whose body was modeled after that of his wife, Eline. More recently, her heirs sued the Berlingske newspaper for publishing a drawing of the mermaid with the zombie face and a photo showing her wearing a coronavirus mask. In 2020, the court ruled that the newspaper had in fact violated copyright and imposed a fine equivalent to R $ 242,000.
Eriksen’s heirs have also sued Bjoern Noergaard, an artist who incorporated the image of the Little Mermaid into his work, as in “The Genetically Modified Little Mermaid”, a statue that now stands a few hundred yards from the ‘original. “Artists have always been inspired by other artists,” Noergaard explains.
He indicated that Carl Jacobsen, when ordering the original sculpture, instructed Eriksen on how and where to position his mermaid and even made it clear that he modeled his face on that of a dancer the industrialist fell in love with in watching a ballet version of Andersen’s story. .
“The artist took the motif of another artist”, says Noergaard, and “the drawing of the client”. He won the case.
With less than 1,200 inhabitants, Asaa will struggle to pay any compensation, according to port president Thomas Nymann. But what he hopes most is not to have to destroy the sculpture.
Klitgaard is also against the idea of paying damages. “If ours were bronze, with the same height and face, that’s okay. But they’re very different. Plus, it’s clear that she’s local – she looks a lot like a girl from Asaa, “he said, blinking.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves