Fate of Warner's art collection in question with sale of 'Progress'

Jack Warner turns away after a last look at Asher B. Durand's “Progress (The Advance of Civilization),” before it was taken down and wrapped for shipping, shown below, at the Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art in Tuscaloosa on Thursday. Warner's wife, Susan Austin, said the painting was the heart of her husband's collection. Jack Warner turns away after a last look at Asher B. Durand's “Progress (The Advance of Civilization),” before it was taken down and wrapped for shipping, shown below, at the Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art in Tuscaloosa on Thursday. Warner's wife, Susan Austin, said the painting was the heart of her husband's collection. Dusty Compton | Tuscaloosa News

Jack Warner crumpled into a chair Thursday morning at the art museum in north Tuscaloosa that bears his family name. On the floor in front of the aging patriarch lay a masterpiece being packed into a custom-built crate.

The painting, “Progress (The Advance of Civilization)” by Asher Durand, was headed to New York City. Warner doesn't know who owns it now.

“This is the heart of the collection,” said Susan Austin, Warner's wife and executive director of the Westervelt-Warner Museum of Art.

More than 2,000 pieces of fine art amassed by Warner, 94, over the past four decades comprise one of the finest collections of early American art anywhere, experts say. Warner and his wife believe many of the collection's most important works will be sold this year.

They don't know how many pieces will go, nor do they know which ones. The Westervelt Co., a family-owned enterprise controlled by Warner's son, Jon, intends to raise an undisclosed amount of money through the sale of art that Jack Warner acquired with his family's fortune.

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