December 4, 2023

For more than three decades, the United Nations Security Council Chamber hung a 25-foot replica of “Guernica” on canvas, which served as the backdrop for speeches by diplomats working to avert the atrocities depicted in Picasso’s iconic anti-war painting .

But now the tapestry is gone and has been retaken by its owner Nelson A. Rockefeller Jr., whose family commissioned the tapestry in the 1950s and loaned it to the United Nations in 1985.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for General Secretary António Guterres, told reporters on Friday that Mr Rockefeller recently reclaimed the tapestry and that it was returned to him earlier this month.

“I am sad and a sense of loss when I look at this blank wall,” said Mr. Dujarric. “The tapestry was not only a moving reminder of the horrors of the war, but also, because of its location, a testimony to so much history that has been going on outside the Security Council since 1985.”

Mr Dujarric said he had no information on why Mr Rockefeller – a member of the family who donated 16 acres of Manhattan’s East Side to the United Nations for its headquarters – wanted Guernica back. Messages left by Mr. Rockefeller with the Rockefeller Family Fund, the New York-based charitable trust, were not immediately returned.

“I can tell you that the Secretary-General tried very hard to keep the tapestry here, but we were unsuccessful,” said Mr Dujarric, adding that Mr Guterres would “consider options” for other art to decorate the wall .

Mr. Guterres, who passed the blank wall on Thursday to greet the new American Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CBS News, “It’s terrible, terrible that it’s gone.”

Picasso’s original painting, created in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and now hanging in a Madrid museum after a 42-year stay at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, showed the bombing of Guernica in Spain by Nazi German planes, which were almost wiped out City and killed or wounded a third of its population.

The haunting black-and-gray images of screaming people and animals made “Guernica” a permanent symbol of the monstrosities of war.