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Picasso’s anti-war “Guernica” tapestry removed from U.N. headquarters

For nearly 36 years, a tapestry depicting Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” adorned the wall at the entrance to the 15-nation Security Council chamber at the United Nations’ New York headquarters. But the tapestry, a haunting and harsh reminder of the horrors of war, has since been removed and returned to its owner.

The tapestry was commissioned in 1955 by Nelson A. Rockefeller and was loaned to the United Nations in 1984, Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said in a letter to the Security Council’s president. Viotti added that Rockefeller’s son, Nelson A. Rockefeller Jr., had recently, “notified the United Nations of his intention to retrieve it,” and said the tapestry was returned earlier this month.

“We thank the Rockefeller family for having loaned this powerful and iconic work of art for more than 35 years,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told CBS News.


“It’s horrible, horrible that it is gone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told CBS News as he walked past the now-empty wall, en route to receive the credentials of President Biden’s new Ambassador to the U.N.

He threw up his arms and lamented: “We tried so hard to keep it here, we tried and tried, but we did not succeed.”

Picasso painted the original piece in 1937. It depicted, in stark black and grey tones, the bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica by Nazi Germany during the Spanish Civil War. The bombing killed hundreds of people and destroyed much of the city’s historic architecture, which the painting portrays through nightmarish images of humans and animals screaming.

The artwork, considered to be one of the world’s most powerful anti-war paintings, is on display at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at U.N headquarters in New York in front of the tapestry reproduction of Picasso's anti-war mural

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at U.N headquarters in New York in front of the tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s anti-war mural

Stephen Schlesinger, a fellow at the Century Foundation who wrote a book about the founding of the United Nations, told CBS News that the Rockefeller family commissioned the “Guernica” tapestry after Picasso refused to sell them the original.

“Having the copy just outside the Security Council meeting room has always seemed very appropriate as an anti-war statement,” Schlesinger said.

“This may be an occasion for the Secretary-General or the U.N. Security Council or even the U.N. General Assembly to ask the Rockefellers to reconsider,” he added. “Or, at the very least, to come up with a well-considered replacement that reflect the UN’s deeply-held opposition to aggression around the world.”

In the letter, Viotti said the United Nations Arts Committee would review options for new art to be displayed outside the chamber.

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