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.