For similar compositions by McCahon recorded by the Colin McCahon Database and Image Library, which does not include the present work, see one of the four panels in the colection of Manuwatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North (Waterfall Series 2, all December 1964. CM000894), Waterfall (December 1964, CM000493, no location given) and Waterfall, Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin (December 1964, CM000799)
'"The waterfalls started flowing in 1964 and there were hundreds of them [although according to the McCahon Database and Image Library less than 100 remain]. They grew out of William Hodges' paintings on loan to the Auckland City Art Gallery from the Admiralty, London. ... Hodges and I eventually realised we were friends over the years and got talking about his painting. He was dead and I was about the same. We conversed, through paint (about Naples yellow to start with) -- and in 1964 I painted my first waterfall. Hodges is my hero in all these paintings, but the Fairy Falls in the Waitakeres and Japanese and Chinese painting are the real influences later. ...
"Waterfalls fell and raged and became as still silent falls of light for a long time. I look back with joy on taking a brush of white paint and curving through the darkness with a line of white."
'The Waterfalls ... were first exhibited publicly at Ikon Fine Arts, Auckland, in September 1964. Once again McCahon was able to convert a landscape motif into, as Gordon Brown has termed it, "a symbolic shorthand". McCahon quickly saw the metaphorical possibilities offered by the curve of white water through the dark background of rock-face and vegetation. To a mind such as McCahon's, it was but a short step for that graceful arc of water to be transposed to a fall of spiritual light illuminating the darkness of the human condition and, by further refinement, to become a metaphor for the cleaving of evil by good. In these new images McCahon had found a motif that he would explore and adapt over the next ten years.' (M. Bloem and M. Browne, Colin McCahon A Question of Faith, Nelson and Amsterdam, 2002, pp.201-02)
McCahon's first inspiration for the waterfall series, Hodges' paintings of waterfalls, were painted at Dusky Bay, South Island (and were specifically views of the waterfalls in Cascade Cove and opposite Cooper Island at Nine Fathoms Passage, Cook Channel). Hodges' subjects were taken in March-May 1773 while Cook's astronomers took the first accurate coordinates of New Zealand on Astronomer's Point just above the Resolution's mooring at 'Pickersgill Harbour', the sheltered cove on the southern side of Dusky Bay.