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Sisti and Renourd

Dean Brownrout’s recent article on the Sisti-signed Renouard paintings (“Framed: Gone, But Hardly Forgotten,” April 9, 2009) brought back to life an uncomfortable controversy from years ago. In this controversy, Sisti supporters have argued that Mr. Sisti suffered from Alzheimers late in his life and may have accidentally signed his name to the work of other painters during this illness while others argue that the placing of Sisti signatures onto non Sisti works was deliberate and just simple out and out misrepresentation.

The problem first reared its head back in the 1980s, when the contents of the late Tony Sisti’s Franklin Street gallery were sold off in a series of court-ordered auctions which brought to the surface thousands of works of art which had lain unseen in storage for years. As the auctions progressed, some questioned the accuracy of some of the Sisti attributions and began referring to certain pieces as “Sistouards” because of anomalies in their signatures, markings, and overall style. Renouard was already known to the cognescenti because the 1969 liquidation of Dale, New York based gallery owner Harold Walker’s huge Renouard collection had put many of the Rochester-born painter’s works into the stream of art commerce.Sisti himself inadvertently helped in this familiarization process when he ran a sale of the long-deceased Renouard’s paintings that year.

With the Sisti gallery dispersal continuing throughout the 1980s, local dealers and art conservationists showed high integrity by removing what appeared to be inappropriate Sisti signatures and in in effect turned freshly purchased signed works into presumably less desirable unsubstantiated unsigned works.Some of those involved in the removals were artists themselves and perhaps were thinking of how they’d feel if they learned another artist had put his name onto their creations.

There are felt to be many Sisti-signed Renouards in private homes in Western New York, as many paintings were bought directly from the Sisti auctions and were then hung on the walls of local homes without ever being subjected to expert appraisal. There are also good, genuine Sisti paintings, the owners of which are now wondering about because of the misattribution stories.

Fortunately, the 1980s also brought the start of a catalogueing of Renouard’s work by Upstate New York researcher Tom Meimone, and this later evolved into a solution for the problem of the “Sistouards” and the unsigned and/or poorly documented Renouards.This process has been continued here in Buffalo, and today there is a local database which includes images and marking information for over 500 George Renouard paintings. Thanks to this database, Renouard paintings can be positively identified and a sequential ID number assigned to them. When the catalogue is more advanced it will be given (minus confidential entries) to both the Burchfield-Penney Art Center and the Memorial Gallery of Rochester.

Anyone interested in having a Sisti-signed painting examined for proper attribution, or in having a Renouard entered into the Renouard catalogue raisonne, should contact Grace Meibohm of Meibohm Fine Arts (652-0940) and arrange an appointment with the gallery owner and myself. City and Northtowns residents can do likewise by contacting Dana Tillou of Dana Tillou Fine Arts (854-5285).

Bruce Johnson

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