A year after it vanished, famed 'Guernica' tapestry returns to UN
Then-US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley passes before the 'Guernica' tapestry at the UN on January 2, 2018
Then-US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley passes before the 'Guernica' tapestry at the UN on January 2, 2018

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - One year after its sudden and disconcerting disappearance from a wall at the United Nations, a vast tapestry representing Picasso's iconic "Guernica" has been returned by owners the Rockefeller family to its prominent place at the global body.

The rehanging of the immense weaving was underway Saturday morning, a UN 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 UN 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 UN by the Rockefellers, it was meant to serve as a powerful reminder to UN 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 UN 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 UN.

"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 UN 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.