Dark clouds loom across the sky. The wind whistles through the treetops and the river crashes over rocks and boulders. This is roaring, foaming water that sweeps away everything in its path. No living beings can be seen, but their existence is suggested – in paths, huts and the sunlit clocktower in the little village in the background to the right. But in this landscape, human existence is definitely subordinate to the immutable power of nature.

Marcus Larson painted this picture in a studio in Paris in the 1850s, a long way from the forests of southern Sweden. His main aim was to create a painting that would convey a sense of the sublime to the viewer. He made use of photographs, his own nature studies and new industrially produced cadmium and chromium paints to achieve the effects he sought. Larson was strongly influenced by Romanticist ideas about the purpose and content of landscape paintings, ideas that he had encountered during his time studying at the academy in Düsseldorf. What set the Düsseldorf school of painting apart was its combination of realistic details and a composed scene. Great emphasis was placed on letting the painting convey a feeling, with a tendency towards the dramatic. Waterfall in Småland is thus a good example of the school’s style. Larsson’s painting is sublime in its way of showing the natural power of the wilderness and the way that it points up the fragility of human existence. Waterfall in Småland shows the magnificence of nature, which can be both fascinating and threatening – chiming perfectly with the ideals of Romanticism.


  • Title: Waterfall in Småland
  • Creator: Marcus Larson
  • Date Created: 1856
  • Title in Swedish: Småländskt vattenfall
  • Signature: M Larson. 1856. Paris.
  • Physical Dimensions: w23300 x h19000 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Marcus Larson grew up in simple circumstances in the Östergötland countryside. After moving to Stockholm as a saddler’s apprentice, he received financial assistance that enabled him to study at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. Larson’s artistic breakthrough came at the major exhibition of Scandinavian art there in 1850, to which he contributed no fewer than sixteen paintings. It was also there that he had his first taste of Norweigan landscape painting, which inspired him to pay a summer visit to Norway. There his view of landscape was broadened by his encounter with scenery more imposing than Sweden had to offer, and more congenial to his own forceful temperament. In the autumn of 1852 Larson went to Düsseldorf to study, remaining there for three years and discovering dramatic shipwrecks and waterfalls by the German Andreas Achenbach as a model to be admired. In 1855 he travelled to Paris and the Universal Exposition. Achenbach’s dramatic effects and French painting’s bolder use of color were to be the two clearest influences on Larson’s landscape art. In addition, he learnt important lessons about painting water from the Dane Vilhelm Melbye and the Frenchman Théodore Gudin. Marcus Larson has, not without reason, been described as “a Swedish genius”. His life was to be a stormy one, corresponding in almost every detail to the Romantic conception of the creative genius. Besides his rural origins, the story of his life had all the classical ingredients of an irrepressible natural talent, chance discovery and astonishing success. It also included the almost equally inevitable intoxication of success and the penalty of subsequent decline and fall.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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