The Rapids Below Niagara Falls - The Sublime and the Ridiculous

The Rapids Below Niagara Falls - The Sublime and the Ridiculous, 1877

Unknown Maker

  • 2006:001.298
  • wood engraving
  • The Graphic.
  • London
  • 15 5/8 x 23 3/8 in.
  • Framed: 21 1/2 x 29 1/2 in.
  • Collection of the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, Generous Donation from Dr. Charles Rand Penney, partially funded by the Castellani Purchase Fund, with additional funding from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas A. Lytle, 2006
If something declines significantly in importance, it is said to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. In this 1877 wood engraving, an unknown artist literally pokes fun at how Niagara Falls, revered as “the sublime” by 19th century Romantic landscape painters, had become a sensationalized “tourist trap.” Platforms, stairways and other structures were built at various points of interest, as shown in this engraving, to bring visitors closer to the dangerous waters, and the contemplative and spiritual elements of the “sublime” were now shared with its more terrifying aspects and marketed to tourists. In this image, tourists pose for their souvenir photograph.