View of the Waterfall on the Vinagre River, Called Waterfall of the Nuns, Popayán Province


This watercolor by Manuel María Paz (1820−1902) shows a stylized view of a waterfall on the Vinagre River (so called for its sulfuric and acidic waters) in the Province of Popayán (present-day Department of Cauca), southwest Colombia. This cascade is known, perhaps for its white and grey coloring, as “las Monjas” (the Nuns). With its pale washes and miniaturized human figures, the painting emphasizes the waterfall’s dramatic drop. The watercolor is typical of Paz’s work, which captured the diversity of the population of New Granada and depicted the daily activities and traditional customs of the country’s different ethnic, racial, and social groups. Paz was born in Almaguer in the province of Cauca. He joined the Colombian army at a young age and showed exceptional skills as a cartographer and painter. In 1853 he took over the role of draftsman of the Comisión Corográfica (Chorographic Commission) formerly held by Henry Price (1819–63). The commission, which began work in 1850, was tasked with studying the geography, cartography, natural resources, natural history, regional culture, and agriculture of the Republic of New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama). Paz worked under Agustín Codazzi (1793–1859), the Italian-born geographer and engineer who co-founded and directed the commission. In 1859, at Codazzi’s death, Paz was among the collaborators who took on the task of reviewing, completing, and publishing the work that the Comisión Corográfica had undertaken since 1850. As a draftsman, Paz executed watercolors and drawings that were very exact and strove to represent the places and people of Colombia in a naturalistic and objective style. These pictures constitute invaluable documentary records for the history and culture of Colombia. They also provided information pertinent to drawing up the maps that were one of the main objectives of the Comisión Corográfica. More than 90 paintings by Paz are preserved at the National Library of Colombia.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

Vista de la cascada del río Vinagre, llamada de las monjas: Provincia de Popayán

Type of Item

Physical Description

Watercolor on paper ; 26 x 38 centimeters


  1. Benjamín Villegas Jiménez, Laura Sesana, and Margaret Dromgold, Colombia Natural Parks (Bogotá: Villegas Editores, 2006).

Last updated: April 8, 2014