‘Guernica’ tapestry returns clean to UN after vanishing

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One year after its disconcerting disappearance from the United Nations headquarters, a grand tapestry representing Picasso’s “Guernica” has been returned to the global body by the owners, the Rockefellers.

The rehanging of the immense weaving was underway Saturday morning, a U.N. source said, as diplomats expressed relief about the return of the 25-foot-wide (7.5-meter) work which hung outside the Security Council chambers, where presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors would regularly pass.

The tapestry was commissioned by Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1955 and woven in a French studio in consultation with Picasso, who did his original “Guernica” painting during the Spanish Civil War. It represents the bombardment of the Spanish city of that name on April 26, 1937 by German Nazi and Italian fascist forces.

“The Guernica tapestry with its probing symbolism – its depiction of horrific aspects of human nature – wrestles with the cruelty, darkness, and also a seed of hope within humanity,” Nelson Rockefeller Jr. said in a U.N. statement announcing the artwork’s return.

“I am grateful that the tapestry will be able to continue to reach a broader segment of the world’s population and magnify its ability to touch lives and educate.”

On loan to the U.N. by the Rockefellers, it was meant to serve as a powerful reminder to U.N. diplomats of the horrors of war. Screaming women, a dead baby and a dismembered soldier are rendered in ominous shades of brown and black.

But in February 2021, as the COVID-19 crisis was sweeping the globe and thousands of U.N. employees were forced to work from home, the tapestry vanished without explanation.

“It’s horrible, horrible, that it is gone,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, himself surprised by the sudden disappearance.

In a letter to the Rockefellers in December, Guterres welcomed the upcoming reinstallment at the U.N.

“We are honored to serve as careful stewards of this one-of-a-kind iconic work – as we draw inspiration from its message,” he wrote, according to the UN statement.

In an interview published Saturday in The New York Times, Nelson Rockefeller Jr. acknowledged a “miscommunication” – indicating that the tapestry had needed cleaning and preservation work.

“Guernica” is on loan to the U.N. with the provision that the family can reclaim it to be shown in exhibits in the United States or elsewhere for up to six months.

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