Art experts are speculating that Alice Walton paid $40 million recently for the Asher B. Durand painting, "Progress," which had been part of a corporate collection of art, the Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art. The word museum is misleading; collector Jack Warner bought the painting (and many other significant works of American art) when he was chairman of Gulf States Paper Co., since restructured as the Westervelt Co., according to this story in the Tuscaloosa News.
The marketing manager for the Westervelt Co. said the collection is not being liquidated, but "Progress" was “a corporate asset, and it was decided through our November board meeting that certain non-core corporate assets will be sold. ... It's not the first time we've sold art.”
The Tuscaloosa story goes on to quote several experts, including Whitney Museum of American art director emeritus Tom Armstrong, who said that the sale price was too high for museums and that "Alice Walton is the leading candidate" among the few billionaires who were likely to plunk down so much for a painting. Armstrong's theory is she wants to unite "Progress" with her other famed (and controversial) Duran acquisition, "Kindred Spirits," at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
“She's been able to buy up the very top of the field, very top-quality works that these days are so rare,” said Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “The best pieces are just going to be in the stratosphere.”
Also sold last week from the Warner collection: Martin Johnson Heade's “Two Hummingbirds With An Orchid.” There is a similar painting already in the collection of Crystal Bridges.