“Marsden Hartley’s Himmel appears like a night display of fireworks translated into paint on canvas and across the frame. The composition’s overlapping, abstract, colorful shapes are rooted in French Cubism’s motifs and palette. The concentric discs floating across the painting reveal Hartley’s knowledge of American Indian design. They also may relate to cockades that decorated the German military uniforms that Hartley saw while living in Berlin at the onset of World War I. The German words for heaven (Himmel) and hell (Hölle) frame two conical shapes that resemble Zuckertuete, colorful bags of candy given to German schoolchildren. Combining childhood themes with military references, Hartley suggests that war is a kind of game that may end in salvation or damnation.
In October 1914 the death in action of von Freyburg, with whom Hartley had developed a close relationship, inspired a new and more powerful series of paintings in which elements of German military regalia symbolized his lost friend. One of the greatest of these visual tributes, this composition is dominated by forms resembling exploding bombs or fireworks, and includes an equestrian monument to valor and the German words Himmel (Heaven) and Hölle (Hell) to allude to the dual natures of war and love.” — Nelson Atkins Museum of Art 🔸