THE SHIFTING FUNCTION OF ARTISTS' FIXATIVES
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS
ABSTRACT—Over the past century, the function of an artist's fixative grew from a simple mechanical consolidant of powdery pigment applied by the artist to an all-purpose prophylactic coating applied in the name of preservation by either the artist or a concerned caretaker. This change corresponded to several specific developments, both technical and aesthetic, including the discovery of the deleterious effect of air pollution and light on paper and organic colorants; the development of synthetic resins; the invention of the aerosol spray container; international confusion over terminology, specifically the distinction between varnish and fixative; and nontraditional presentation formats for 20th-century works of art due either to large size or to artist's intent. After a discussion of the history of fixative usage, each development is considered, with emphasis on its role in modifying the original function of artists' fixatives and the conservation issues to which these changes give rise. Given that fixatives have been recommended as protection against the environment for well over a century and have been used for that purpose with varying degrees of success, the time has come for a serious investigation of their effectiveness in this “modern” role. By understanding the evolution of this commonplace material, conservators will be better equipped to weigh the significance of the presence of fixatives when examining and treating works of art and to offer guidance to others in the arts community on appropriate applications of fixatives.
2. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
3. FACTORS IN THE SHIFTING FUNCTION OF FIXATIVES
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