NEW YORK — For more than three decades, a 25-foot long canvas tapestry replica of “Guernica” hung outside the United Nations Security Council chamber, the backdrop for speeches by diplomats who were working to avert the atrocities depicted in Picasso’s iconic anti-war painting.
But now the tapestry is gone, repossessed by its owner, Nelson A. Rockefeller Jr., whose family had commissioned the tapestry in the 1950s and lent it to the United Nations in 1985.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary-General António Guterres, told reporters Friday that Rockefeller had recently requested the tapestry back and that it had been returned to him earlier this month.
“I feel sad and a sense of loss looking at that empty wall,” Dujarric said. “The tapestry was not only a moving reminder of the horrors of war but, because of where it stood, it was also a witness to so much history that unfolded outside of the Security Council since 1985.”
Dujarric said he had no information on why Rockefeller — a scion of the family that gifted 16 acres of Manhattan’s East Side to the United Nations for its headquarters — had wanted “Guernica” back. Messages left for Rockefeller at the Rockefeller Family Fund, the New York-based charitable foundation, were not immediately returned.
“I can tell you the secretary-general tried very hard to keep the tapestry here, but we were not successful,” Dujarric said, adding that Guterres would “review options for other art” to adorn the wall.
Guterres, who walked past the empty wall Thursday to greet the new American ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CBS News that “it’s horrible, horrible that it is gone.”
Picasso’s original painting, done 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, depicted the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by Nazi German aircraft that nearly obliterated the city and killed or wounded a third of its population.
The painting’s haunting black-and-gray images of screaming humans and animals turned “Guernica” into an enduring symbol of war’s monstrosities.