Henry Heerup was born on 4 November 1907 and was named Henry Christensen. His mother, Sara Lolia Anna Christensen (1865–1949), called Sera, aged forty, was working as a manageress in her brother’s men’s wear shop at Nørrebrogade when she fell pregnant out of wedlock. When people later asked the small boy with the lively imagination who his father was, he always replied ‘the Emperor of China’. In spite of the difficult conditions, Sera and Henry managed quite well, not least thanks to Sera’s large family. Heerup often spent hours in the shop where he used to play with his uncle’s dog, Rørbus.

Heerup’s childhood home was a fifth-floor flat near Nørrebros Runddel. There is now a plaque at the door to his stairwell. With a view to the Assistens Cemetery, Heerup soon became familiar with the many graves of famous Danes. His favourite being the grave of Hans Christian Andersen which he revisited every year on the poet’s birthday to sing a birthday song to his famous artist colleague. Hans Christian Andersen was one of Heerup’s ’heroes’ and we find his characteristic profile along with elements from fairy tales like The Ugly Duckling and The Sweethearts in many of Heerup’s works. Thus, the Nørrebro district, his childhood years, and a vivid imagination were strong sources of inspiration.