Waterfall, executed on the artist's boat in Huntington Harbor, Long Island, is among the earliest Dove paintings in the Collection and represents Dove at the beginning of his mature style. The small scale, the result of limited working space, does not detract from the power of the image. In Waterfall Dove captured the movement of water, freezing it into abstract, timeless patterns, conveying the effect of water rushing and swirling over rocks. The palette is orchestrated within a narrow range of tonal values that not only emphasize form but also enhance the overall effect. The icy blues, grays, pinks, and whites of Waterfall characterize cold, clear water in its purest state.
In its successful evocation of the inner vitality of nature, this painting represents the culmination of formative influences in Dove's development, including trends in European modernist art, especially Kandinsky's notion of spirituality, and the ideals concerning individual expression espoused by Stieglitz's group. Such sources encouraged him to interpret his surroundings in an abstract style, in an effort to elicit the unseen forces they contained.
Duncan Phillips's acquisition of Waterfall in 1926 represented a breakthrough for the collector in his growing acceptance of abstract form and expressive color as evocations of nature's underlying dynamism. He praised the "spacing of bright and dark accents" in Waterfall. Comparing it to the art of Ryder, whom he considered Dove's "spiritual ancestor," not only in his reduction of nature's forms to their purest elements, but also in his experimental techniques and choice of medium."