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  • Rothko's use of and contemporary applications for phenol formaldehydeApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2017-06-09 23:14:16 ... Most recent comment 2017-06-10 09:16:00
    Varnishes Technical Art History

    ​Hello. I'm not sure if this question really belongs with the Varnish questions, but I couldn't find any better matches. I was reading an abstract from the journal Nature in which some Tate Modern conservators described their research into Rothko murals.* In their words, "Rothko [...] applied phenol formaldehyde to prevent layers from blending into one another." I imagine this working something like workable fixative between paint layers. Is that correct? Are there other documented uses of phenol formaldehyde for this purpose? How would the use of it affect paint adhesion in layers above? 

    I'm not aware of too many companies selling anything like this, although Lefranc & Bourgeois offers "Harlem Duroziez drying medium"** which they say contains phenol formaldehyd resin. Are there other manufacturers which offer it in a liquid or spray form?



Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    This may help. From "House Paints, 1900-1960: History and Use" By Harriet A. L. Standeven (2011 , isbn 978-1606060674) from the section "ARTISTIC USE OF COMMERCIAL PAINTS":

    There is thus far no evidence of artists using household paints based on phenol-formaldehyde resins, although the resin has been found on works of art. Phenol-formaldehyde was certainly used by Rothko for his Seagram murals... and was detected on the murals in the Tate's collection. Although the source of phenol-formaldehyde in this instance is unclear, it is likely to have originated from a printing ink. Phenol-formaldehyde was widely used for this application in the late 1950s, and the almost ubiquitous presence of lithol red (PR:49) on the Seagram murals (Carlyle et al. 2008), a pigment commonly used for printing, suggests Rothko may have obtained his materials from the printing industry.

    A second notable occurrence of the presence of phenol-formaldehyde is in the faked Vermeer paintings executed by Hans van Meegeren in the 1930s. In this instance, its detection provided incontrovertible proof that the paintings were indeed faked. In this instance, Van Meegeren chose phenol-formaldehyde, as it enabled him to re-create the visual effect of a cracked seventeenth-century paint film. He bought the resin as a thick solution in benzene or alcohol, which he diluted with the essential oils of lavender or lilac. He then pigmented the resin and heat-hardened the finished painting for four to six hours at temperatures of 120 to 130 degrees C to create the craquelure that is characteristic of aged paint (Breek and Froentjes 1975).​

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2017-06-10 09:16:57
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    Regarding consumer products containing phenolic resin: it looks like it's still used in a few nautical oil-based varnishes ("spar varnish") ​including Pettit Easypoxy Hi-Build Varnish 2056

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2017-06-10 09:28:11

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