Two tiny figures are encircled by a landscape in motion. The waterfall behind them seems to fall right on top of them. The gigantic rock to the right looks about to topple over and squish them between it and the steep mountain cliffs on the left that are likewise sloping dangerously toward them.The trees lean towards the figures. Even the sky is askew, as if it was about to slide and fall. The clouds are sharp and red as blood. A low sun glows through the scene and creates dramatic shadows in the landscape.
The two figures do not appear to be alarmed. Either they have not yet realised their perilous situation, or they have already surrendered – what could they possibly do to stop the world from crashing on them?
The painting conveys for me the feeling of being overwhelmed. This is how we feel when we have been overpowered by a much greater force that is far beyond our control.
Artwork: David Claypoole Johnston, At the Waterfall (ca. 1850), watercolour and gouache.