The New York Times
Pablo Escobar’s Wife Says This Painting May Have Saved Her Life
By PETER LIBBEY
2 hrs ago
a statue in front of a building: Dalí’s waterfront house in Port Lligat, a fishing village, is now a museum.
a group of people walking on a city street: The second version of “The Dance” was sold through Sotheby’s at its Manhattan headquarters in 1985.
a group of people walking in the rain: Billy Rose’s 26-room country mansion in Mount Kisco, N.Y., was destroyed by fire in 1956. Lost with it were the Dalí paintings he had commissioned, including the one that depicted dancing.
a sign on the side of a building: The Dalí painting hung in the library of the Escobar apartment in this building in Medellín where the drug lord lived with his family. The building is soon to be demolished to make way for a park.
Pablo Escobar et al. posing for a photo: Ms. Henao wrote in her book that her husband, seen here with her and their son at a soccer match in Bogota, cared little for the art she collected.
a man sitting on a table: The original version of “The Dance” and the other works that made up the “Lively Arts” series were created in Dalí’s studio above the Ziegfeld Theater in New York.
a person sitting at a table in a restaurant: Victoria Eugenia Henao was married to Pablo Escobar for 17 years, ending with his death in 1993.
“The Dance” is perhaps not the best painting by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, but it’s probably the one with the most interesting history.
A first version hung in New York’s Ziegfeld Theater and was later lost in the fire that destroyed the Mount Kisco home of the theater’s owner, the Broadway impresario Billy Rose. Dalí made a second copy for Rose, who sold it. One owner later, it ended up in the home of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug kingpin whose cocaine empire placed him among the world’s richest people and whose terror campaigns paralyzed his country.
Now a fuller vision of what happened next to the painting, sometimes known as “Rock ’n’ Roll,” is recounted in a new book published in Spanish by Escobar’s wife, Victoria Eugenia Henao. In the book, “Pablo Escobar: My Life and My Prison,” she recalls her feelings when she first spotted the work by Dalí.
“It was incredible,” she writes. “I was struck by the movement of a couple in an endless desert, sexual and dreamlike.”
More important, the painting became a talisman of sorts for Escobar family members, as they narrowly survived a bombing at their Medellín home, she reports, and later served as the sort of “gift” that she believes may have saved her life and the lives of her children.
Here’s an account of the painting’s travels as further illuminated in the book.
New York City, 1944
The first iteration of “Dance” was known as “Art of Boogie-Woogie,” and it was part of a series commissioned by Rose to decorate the Ziegfeld during its inaugural production, a 1944 musical revue called “Seven Lively Arts.” Dalí created paintings that reflected his views of music, theater and other arts, in a small room at the theater, where they later hung in the lobby.
The original painting featured several twisted, emaciated figures locked in what appeared to be more struggle than celebration as they moved within a corridor or tunnel. A flaming tuba appears amid them, and mysterious figures loiter in the background.
Mount Kisco, N.Y., 1956
The original set of Dalí paintings was later moved to Rose’s mansion in Mount Kisco, a New York suburb. But the works were destroyed by a fire that swept through the home in 1956.
When Dalí found out the paintings had been lost, he offered to repaint them for the same price as the original commission as a sign of gratitude to Rose, his patron.
Port Lligat, Spain, 1957
Dalí painted the replacement series in Spain, where he lived in Port Lligat. He had become an internationally known painter by this time, famous for his unpredictability, his outrageousness and his surreal mixture of the brutal and the divine. The second version was slightly different. Only two figures are featured, and the tuba has disappeared. The setting, too, is altered. The two dancers appear against a typically Dalí-esque barren landscape. The replacement series was later installed in Rose’s Manhattan apartment.
New York City, 1985
The man who bought the Dalí from Rose sold it at auction at Sotheby’s in New York on May 14, 1985. Ms. Henao does not make clear in her book whether she was the purchaser who paid $209,000 (about $490,000, adjusted for inflation) or if she bought it subsequently. But by 1988, it was in Colombia, part of a collection she was creating.
In her 512-page book, Ms. Henao suggests that art became something of a refuge for her, a gentle pursuit in a life often enveloped by violence and fear. She says she was largely unaware of the extent of Escobar’s crimes. But she does not try to deny them, and in an interview last month on a Colombian radio station she apologized for the pain he had caused.
As for the art she collected, she writes that Escobar took little notice. He was interested only “in antiques and antique cars.”
Ms. Henao collected work by a range of artists, including the painter Claudio Bravo, the painter and sculptor Fernando Botero and the sculptor Édgard Negret.
But acquiring the Dalí was particularly momentous, she writes, given his stature. “It seemed incredible to me,” she wrote, “that at my 22 years of age I could have such a work of art in my house.”
Medellín, Colombia, 1988
The Escobars’ apartment was in El Poblado, a neighborhood of Medellín. Ms. Henao said she hung the Dalí in what she describes as a privileged place, the library, where it could be seen from multiple vantage points.
It was hanging there in 1988 when a car bomb targeting Escobar and his family ripped through the building. Escobar wasn’t present, but family members were, and they fled.
Days after the attack, her sister returned to the building, found the painting unscathed and retrieved it, she said.
Ms. Henao moved “The Dance” to her sister’s home in another neighborhood in Medellín. But that house also came under attack, Ms. Henao writes, from the vigilante group Los Pepes, which hated her husband. The house was set on fire in 1993, and Ms. Henao said she initially assumed the painting had been destroyed.
But the arsonists had walked off with the Dalí painting, she writes, a fact she learned after the death of her husband in December of that year. Soon after, she said, she received a message from an intermediary for Carlos Castaño Gil, who led Los Pepes along with his brother Fidel.
They were willing to return the painting to Ms. Henao, now a widow, to aid her in paying off her husband’s enemies. But she declined, she said, because she remembered something her husband had told her to assuage any potentially dangerous situations. “The day I die,” she recalled Escobar telling her, “give them what you have left so they do not kill you and our children.”
This gesture, she said, was one of many she made to convince her husband’s former enemies that she posed no threat and to compensate them for the costs of having battled with Escobar. It was, it seems, successful. Ms. Henao and her family were able to leave Colombia safely, eventually settling in Argentina.
“The last thing I knew about ‘The Dance of Rock and Roll’ was that Carlos called several dealers in Bogotá and asked them for help in selling the work to an international collector,” she writes.
Fukushima, Japan, 2018
In 1994, “The Dance” went up for sale at Christie’s London. The provenance in the catalog named Billy Rose and another collector as prior owners, but it did not name the seller or Escobar. The auction house gave a high estimate for the value at $625,195. It ended up being bought, price unknown, by a Japanese businessman, Teizo Morohashi, the founder of XEBIO Corporation, a sporting goods retailer.
An art collector particularly fascinated by Dalí, Mr. Morohashi acquired some 330 paintings, sculptures, prints and other works by the artist. He then donated them, along with 70 works by other artists to create the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art, which opened in 1999 on land he provided in an inland section of the Fukushima region that is about a two-hour drive from the Pacific coast. Today the museum welcomes about 50,000 visitors a year.
Dalí would probably be happy with another museum that honors his legacy. Given his particular fondness for the humor and beauty to be found in a world gone awry, he also would have likely enjoyed the strange journey that his painting “The Dance” took to get there.