Waterfalls are among the most powerful and spectacular natural wonders in the world. In continents all across the globe, people have used waterfalls as important landmarks and symbols of the immense strength that nature is capable of displaying.
Artists have found inspiration from waterfalls since the dawn of artistic expression. Throughout the mid-19th century, painters began to create works that depicted the natural world around us—many of which sought to portray the world’s most incredible waterfalls in the process.
The following works are among the most famous waterfall paintings in the world. In this article, we’ll discuss these paintings and what motivated the artists to produce them.
Famous Waterfall Paintings
1. Niagra – Frederic Edwin Church
Niagara Falls is one of the most impressive natural spectacles in the world with millions of people visiting the location each year. The sheer vastness of the entire falls makes it difficult to portray in both paintings or photographs and few artists have attempted to do so.
Frederic Edwin Church is a 19th century artist that rose to prominence as a masterful landscape painter after he created a work depicting Niagara Falls in 1857.
The painting is titled Niagara and is considered by many critics, scholars and historians to be the greatest depiction of the site in existence.
Notable Canadian author Pierre Berton stated that Church’s portrayal of Niagara was “by common consent the greatest” painting that focuses on the falls. His painting is of Horseshoe Falls, which is the largest of the three different waterfalls that form Niagara Falls.
Church’s painting seems to direct the viewer’s eyes toward the falls as the clouds above open up over Niagara and there are darker grey clouds jutting inward from the upper left and right corners.
He also managed to capture the famous rainbow effect that typically occurs at Niagara Falls by the immense amount of mist created by the thousands of tons of water crashing down into the pool below.
2. Cascade Falls, Yosemite – Thomas Moran
Thomas Moran is one of the most highly-regarded American landscape artists who is credited with painting a number of masterful works involving waterfalls on the North American continent.
He is a member of the famous Hudson River School and focused much of his work on portraying the pure and rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountain wilderness.
Moran created a work in 1905 that focused on the majestic Cascade Falls, which is one of the most illustrious attractions in Yosemite National Park. The painting is titled Cascade Falls, Yosemite and features a side-view of the falls, which is quite different from some of the modern images that are associated with the falls in that it is much closer and more detailed.
This painting is often thought of as the most famous waterfall painting in history and is one that we’ve chosen to add in at the top of our list as it’s difficult to place this painting above Church’s depiction of Niagara.
3. A Waterfall in a Rocky Landscape – Jacob van Ruisdael
Jacob van Ruisdael is considered by many historians and critics to be one of the greatest landscape painters in history and one that was unchallenged when it comes to producing works that capture the graceful and elegant nature of the world’s wilderness.
Ruisdael created a number of paintings during the 1650’s that dealt with waterfalls that are believed to be located in Germany or, perhaps, Scandinavia.
One of his most highly-celebrated works from this stretch of his career is considered to be a true masterpiece in landscape art. The painting is titled A Waterfall in a Rocky Landscape and was completed sometime in the early 1660’s, according to most art historians familiar with his career.
It is known for the high level of detail in the rushing water that truly sets it apart from other landscape paintings during the 17th century.
4. The Waterfall – Franz Marc
Franz Marc is an artist that is considered to be among the most preeminent painters in the late Expressionism era. He is famous for his abstract depiction of natural scenes, which mostly involve various exotic animals.
Marc was one of the most well-known German Expressionism painters during the early 20th century, but his life and career were tragically cut short when he was killed in action while serving in the first World War.
Marc’s painting titled The Waterfall is one of the more intriguing works on our list of famous waterfall paintings as it features a truly abstract depiction of nude women lounging next to a waterfall.
The painting has been described as ‘captivating’ due to the artist’s use of vivid colors that seem to compliment or contrast one another, depending on which area of the painting the viewer focuses on.
5. Tivoli with the Temple of the Sybil and the Cascades – Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner is recognized as one of the most gifted painters of the 19th century. Born in London, Turner is considered by many to be one of the greatest English painters to have ever lived and he was able to create masterful works in a variety of different painting styles, including landscape creations.
One of Turner’s most iconic paintings is a depiction of a famous landmark in Rome, Italy that’s known as the Temple of Sybil. The famous waterfalls of Tivoli are also seen in the center of the painting and the image is considered to be one of the best depictions of the famous waterfalls.
Turner devoted many years to painting various parts of the landscape in and around Rome and this 1797 painting is one of his greatest early works before he became one of the most prominent English artists in the 19th century.
6. Shenandoah River – Thomas Moran
The Shenandoah River is often considered to be some of the most rugged and majestic country in the eastern United States. It’s beauty was captured by Thomas Moran in 1900 and is considered to be one of his greatest paintings outside of the many works portraying sites in the Rocky Mountains.
Also Read: River Paintings
The painting is titled Shenandoah River and features some of the dark rain clouds that were often a signature among Moran’s landscape paintings.
This particular painting is one that critics use to show how Moran was influenced by Joseph Mallord William Turner and largely adopted Turner’s use of color and much of the composition used by the famous landscape artist when it came to depicting rivers or waterfalls.
7. Sadak In Search of the Waters of Oblivion – John Martin
John Martin is another prominent English artist who is known to have created paintings that depict stunning landscapes that were sometimes real or imagined. His works often drew widespread acclaim for the artist’s ability to portray the immense amount of scale and vast space in some of his works, especially those dealing with rugged mountainous landscapes.
One of his most well-known paintings is titled Sadak In Search of the Waters of Oblivion. This 1812 oil painting depicts a fictional character, Sadak, from a book that was written by James Ridley known as The Tales of the Genii.
This painting was Martin’s first work to ever be exhibited and is remembered for the amount of scale and color used to create the sense of overwhelming nature of the journey in which the fictional character was involved in.
8. The Cascades of Tivoli – Claude-Joseph Vernet
Claude-Joseph Vernet was another artist that famously portrayed the waterfalls of Tivoli in Rome, Italy. Vernet was a French painter who had a reputation for producing stunning landscape paintings that were packed with incredible amounts of detail.
He is remembered as one of the most prolific artists from the 18th century and commonly depicted people in his paintings as miniscule in comparison to the natural world.
One of his most memorable works depicting part of Rome’s landscape is titled The Cascades of Tivoli. This painting is believed to have been completed around 1750 and is considered by critics and historians to be one of the best depictions of the waterfalls of Tivoli near the Temple of Sybil.
This painting was done while Vernet was living in Rome and has the same characteristics as other works that depict the city’s landmarks, most notably that it portrays the man-made structures as very small compared to the natural landscape.
9. The Falls of St. Anthony – Albert Bierstadt
Albert Bierstadt is one of the more famous American painters in history, although he was actually born in Germany. During his career, Bierstadt would become part of the famous Hudson River School and gained a stellar reputation for producing works that depicted the wild, untamed American frontier during the 19th century.
Many of Albert Bierstadt paintings feature an almost glowing light and some critics categorize his works as being among the Romantic landscape painters of the late 1800’s.
He received high praise for his painting titled The Falls of St. Anthony, which he completed later in his career in 1880.
While the falls had been manipulated by engineers by the time Bierstadt had created this painting, the artist chose to depict how the Falls of St. Anthony looked prior to human interference. He painted the river as a massive, sweeping body of water that was sacred to nearby tribes of Native Americans.
10. Casting in the Falls – Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer is regarded as one of the most talented and famous landscape artists in American history. Many of his works are part of what critics and historians consider to be the pinnacle of paintings from the Realism movement, which took place during the 19th century.
Homer commonly painted scenes from the American landscape that included many common sights from the rugged portions of the eastern United States.
One of his lesser-known paintings is often praised as one of the best works featuring a waterfall, especially among 19th century American painters. Titled Casting in the Falls, this work is believed to have been finished in 1889 and depicts a fisherman casting a rod and reel into a small waterfall that some critics believe to be part of the remote Adirondack Mountains.
11. Waterfall Series – Hiroshi Senju
Hiroshi Senju is a modern Japanese painter known for producing exceptionally realistic depictions of waterfalls. Many of these paintings are done in creative settings that adorn doors and walls of prominent buildings or murals throughout Japan and other parts of the world.
Senju uses ancient techniques of crushing precious minerals to create the pigments for his paintings.
Senju’s Waterfall Series is easily among the most famous waterfall paintings to have ever been created as the works are breathtaking portrayals of the movement of water and how it interacts with itself and the air while it cascades downward.
His works are viewed as being very philosophical in their portrayal of water and Senju’s painting style makes the viewer feel like they are able to hear the rushing water and feel the mist coming from the falls.