As an enthusiast in the history of art, I've been an avid collector of art-related CD-ROMs since the early days of the medium, around 1993. Dozens of CDs later, I can honestly say that Corbis' Paul Cézanne: Portrait of My World is the best CD-ROM about an artist I've ever seen, period. Alden Mudge says it all in his wonderfully thorough review for Bookpage: |
"In brief, this CD-ROM provides an almost unbelievably informative, very engaging introduction to Cézanne for people to whom it's just a name in a distant constellation of painterly stars. And it will be of great value to more knowledgeable Cézanne enthusiasts as well.
Represented here are some 140 works by Cézanne and almost one hundred more by artists who influenced or were influenced by him. Corbis, part of the Bill Gates organization, is staking its reputation on great digitized reproductions of the world's art treasures, and the images here are indeed very good, as clear and crisp as monitor technology will allow. A zoom feature allows close inspection of the complete surface of every painting. The texts that accompany the paintings are more than mere captions; they are often short, well-written articles, relying on good scholarship, and rendering insightful analysis of the paintings and their historical and artistic contexts. The CD-ROM also includes an in-depth, easily accessible biography.
To my mind, these rather static features alone merit an enthusiastic recommendation for Portrait of My World. But in keeping with its reputation for innovation, Corbis has made the real centerpiece of this CD-ROM five interactive environments, representations of places important to the artist – his studio, three cafés, a museum gallery, a nineteenth century train station, and the countryside.
About the ahistorical and unattributed lumping together of people and images in these environments, I have some slight misgivings, but I must admit that these places are fun and informative – and make very good use of the unique capabilities of multimedia. Each of them is well thought-out, accompanied by an unobtrusive soundtrack. Each is also visually interesting, combining a mixture of sketchbook-like drawings with period photographs and paintings to give a feel of both the time and a certain timelessness. Clicking on a painting or object often sets in motion a short narrative, based on Cézanne's letters and journals, in which the artist explains his theories and techniques of painting or supplies autobiographical detail. On other occasions you meet friends and acquaintances who provide historical, cultural, or personal narratives. Or you discover rich commentary that is invariably laid out in eye-catching designs. The clickable objects in each environment – Cézanne's death notice, for example, or an early Lumiere brothers film clip – are often quirky, fun, and oddly appropriate. I have spent hours and hours in these environments and have yet to exhaust their scope.
In fact, it is amazing how much information the designers have managed to squeeze onto this CD-ROM. Luckily, Paul Cézanne comes with a number of sophisticated navigational features – an excellent index and an "Exploration" option that facilitates easy movement, for example. Most impressive is "QuickMove", which uses a "mosaic" of color-coded squares to create a kind of roadmap of everything on the CD-ROM. With preview and keyword search capabilities, QuickMove is attractive and easy-to-use and should be an industry standard. All in all, Portrait of My World is a remarkable piece of work. It would approach perfection if only it included endnotes and a bibliography for the curious and skeptical among us, but this is a quibble. With this release, Corbis Publishing continues to set the standard for lively, sophisticated, visually exciting, and intellectually stimulating products that are sure to be of interest to book lovers."
It is too bad that Corbis isn't making any more reference CD-ROMs. Whether you are a big Cézanne fan like me, or have only a passing interest in art in general, Portrait of My World is a must-have. And if you know nothing about art, this is the one CD that will spark your interest. Yes, it is that good.
Reviewed by: Underdogs