Marc Chagall’s Peace

Peace Through Art: The United Nation’s Gifts Collection

Exploration T2A1
Jul 6, 2017 · 5 min read


Since 1950, the United Nations has been gifted many artworks to store in their New York headquarters. After visiting the United Nations, I decided to write about these pieces and how they are intentionally picked to display to the world what their goal is.

The United Nations Gift Collection is a collection of artworks, historical objects, and architecture donated by member states and foundations. Some donations include a peace treaty between Hattusilis and Ramses II, a tapestry commemorating the Chernobyl tragedy, a painted piece of the Berlin wall, and a statue of the Dodo bird. But, one of the most common themes of these artworks is peace.

Candido Portinari’s War (right) and Peace (left) source

In 1953, War and Peace by Candido Portinari was in its creation period. The two 46 by 34 foot pieces gifted by Brazil were completed and hung in the headquarters on July 12th, 1957. In explaining the mural War, the artist said that “War today is no longer a battlefield; it is human suffering, torn fields, ruined cities, women and children sacrificed, the world shattered by cataclysms; its desolation is swept by the wind of insanity, of madness…” However the second mural, Peace, depicts joy and prosperity. In the top corner a boy is swinging, around him other children are playing. The two murals placed together shows two worlds that we can end up in, a world of harmony and a world ravaged by war.

Photo of the Peace Bell in winter source

The Japanese Peace Bell, located in the exterior courtyard of the UN was donated by Japan on June 8th, 1954. It was casted by Chuyoji Nakagawa from coins and medals donated by the 60 nations in the UN at that time. Inscribed in the bell are the words “Long Live Absolute World Peace.” The bell is rung every year on World Peace Day. On the day of its presentation, the Japanese observer (at this time Japan was not yet apart of the UN) said that “The bell embodies the aspiration for peace not only of the Japanese but of the peoples of the entire world. Thus it symbolized the universality of the United Nations.”

Zurab Tsereteli’s Good Defeats Evil

Good Defeats Evil was given to the United Nations by the Soviet Union during the 45th anniversary of the UN in 1990. The statue, made by Georgian-Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, commemorates the signing of the INF Treaty in 1987 between the US and the USSR. The sculpture depicts St. George defeating the dragon, symbolising the end of the Cold War era missile threats. To further depict the dragon as a nuclear weapon, it’s torso is made of fragments of Soviet and US missiles. When the piece was placed in the UN, Zurab stated, “I believe that when I installed the monument, I helped create peace in the world.”

Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s Non-Violence

Made after the death of his close friend John Lennon in 1980, Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd created Non-Violence. The bronze sculpture of a Colt Python .357 was initially in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, but in 1988 the Government of Luxembourg donated it to the UN. Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General said about the piece “The sculpture Non-Violence has not only endowed the United Nations with a cherished work of art; it has enriched the consciousness of humanity with a powerful symbol that encapsulates, in a few simple curves, the greatest prayer of man; that which asks not for victory, but for peace.”

Norman Rockwell’s The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This mosaic, based on the painting of the same name by Norman Rockwell, depicts just that. Executed by Coop Mosaic Artistico Veneziano in 1985 and donated by First Lady Nancy Reagan, depicts member of different nationalities, creeds, and race coming together.

the middle of Mankind’s Struggle for Lasting Peace

Mankind’s Struggle for a Lasting Peace by Jose Vela Zanetti was donated in 1953. In the artists own words, the piece ”symbolizes the essential purposes of the United Nations. These symbols cry out, pray, praise and condemn, but altogether they represent the hope of man for achieving peace.” It consists of three different scenes. It begins with the destruction of a family, then moves to the creation of a peace keeping force, the United Nations. Because of the creation of this force, it kindles the reconstruction and resurrection after the period of destruction.

Salvador Dali’s Five Continents

Donated and painted by Salvador Dali, Five Continents that shows 5 entwined hands that represent the coming together of the five contents, and the flower on top of the highest arm represents the growth of achievement through cooperation between nations. There are also olive branches, a common symbol of piece, throughout the painting.

These pieces, and many more in the UN’s collection, outwardly reflects their main mission of peacekeeping to the greater world.