Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) is famous throughout the world for his beloved children’s tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Snow Queen.” The son of a shoemaker and apprentice to a tailor, by the age of seventeen, Anderson had begun writing plays and aspired to be a published author. Although the public did not immediately appreciate his work, Andersen went on to achieve great fame. In all, he produced nearly two hundred works of fiction and travelogues that have been translated into more than one hundred-fifty languages.
Soon after members of Chicago’s Dania Society suggested that the city should erect a Hans Christian Andersen Monument in 1891, a committee formed and began raising money for the eight-foot-tall bronze sculpture. Donations included pennies and nickels from school children. The Hans Christian Andersen Monument Association commissioned John Gelert to produce the sculpture. A Danish immigrant, John Gelert (1852–1923) arrived in Chicago in 1887, receiving his first commission for the Haymarket Riot Monument two years later. (Owned by the City of Chicago, this sculpture was later considered controversial.)
Gelert portrayed the children’s author sitting with a book in hand and a swan at his feet, alluding to his world-famous story, “The Ugly Duckling.” The artist explained that “he had the advantage of studying several good photographs of Andersen taken at various times in his life.” Gelert displayed the Hans Christian Andersen Monument along with his now-missing Beethoven Portrait Bust at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. (Installed in Lincoln Park in 1897, the Beethoven bust was stolen in 1970.) Today, the Hans Christian Andersen Monument is Gelert’s only remaining sculpture in the Chicago parks. In honor of the 200th anniversary of Andersen’s birth, the Chicago Park District recently conserved the monument.