Paul Cézanne, Portrait of My World Paul Cézanne, Portrait of My World

Published by Reunion des Musees Nationaux

This review, along with the accompanying screencaptures, was contributed by
Helga van Vondelen, Leiden, the Netherlands

UPDATE 27 AUG 99:

Bill Masciarelli advises that this CD-ROM can be obtained online. Here is the response he received from Corbis:

"To provide more people around the world with access to our digital-image collection, Corbis has entered into a distribution agreement with I. Hoffman + associates Inc. (H+a), a Canadian software publisher. H+a is now the exclusive worldwide distributor of Corbis' six CD-ROM titles. For more information, please contact H+a at:
Even better, you can get a combination of "A Passion for Art" AND "Paul Cezanne: Portrait of my World"...BOTH for only US$14.99! Tell them you heard about the deal at The Artchive...

Cézanne belongs to the truly great painters and his work and technique have inspired many 20th century artists, so he most certainly deserves his own cd-rom....The question is: does this particular one do him justice? Well....if you buy it you'll have an interesting adventure, to say the least! Here's an impression of what you can expect.....

When you start up the cd-rom, you see a self-portrait of Cézanne, and hear a voice with a heavy French accent saying: "My name is Paul Cézanne. I was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839. I'm a painter". Apparently the master himself is speaking to you.... Next you see one of his famous bathers-paintings. Then you're suddenly standing in the middle of a room. You can see paintings and photographs on the wall, brushes standing in a tin on the table, shelves with books, a newspaper, a skull. You hear someone walking up and down the floor (it creaks), then suddenly water (or some other liquid) being poured into...what? a glass?...you can't see anything, you just hear sounds....
Further research will reveal that you're standing in Cézanne's studio in Aix-en-Provence, and that there are other historical sites that you can visit. This is meant to make you more familiar with Cézanne's life, the paintings and photographs that inspired him, the cafe he used to frequent, the landscape he loved so dearly and the people he met regularly (like his friend Zola, the writer, Vollard, his art-dealer, and even his paint-supplier Tanguy! they all have their own stories to tell). While exploring each place you can get detailed information about different aspects of Cézanne's life, which you can access by clicking on an object, painting or person. Also, in each place you can find 3 works that are 'gateways' to Cézanne's theories about painting. When you click on them, a QuickTime-movie starts and you see lines of text and fragments of paintings while you hear Cézanne (or rather his impersonator) explain his ideas about perspective, landscape, portraits, still-life, etc. At the end of each movie you either get access to a 'little museum', a number of related works put together (like the numerous paintings he made of the Mont St Victoire) or you can solve a 'puzzle' (like trying to make a new composition for one of his still lifes).
While exploring the different places you can always get access to Cézanne's biography, which gives chronological details about his life, and to the alphabetical index of his paintings (a total of 150). Each painting can be viewed full screen, or in a work-screen, that gives you some textual information and the opportunity to zoom in for more details. Apart from Cézanne's paintings you can see about 100 related works of other painters like Chardin, Courbet, Poussin, Pissarro, Braque and Picasso. The cd-rom has a separate QM screen, where you can get information about what you have and haven't seen so far, it even has a search function! You can save your settings, so the next time you start up the cd-rom it will automatically continue in the same location, this way you don't have to go through the exploration all over again.

And now down to the nitty gritty: is it any good....? Well....yes and no.

I was pretty frustrated that the cd-rom didn't come with a user's guide. This means you have to experiment and find out for yourself what its possibilities are. It took quite some time for me to figure out what the QM-screen was for and how I could exit the cd-rom (you can't do this directly from any screen but have to go to the QM-screen first).
The five places you can visit are a nice idea, and they are quite interactive and informative, but the makers are too intent on completely drowning you in what they think of as 'Cézanne's World'. The background noises (crickets chirping, trains whistling, the din of voices, footsteps) really get on your nerves after a while, so you tend to turn off the sound. And are you really that interested in the recipe of Cézanne's favourite food?
Cézanne's theories about painting are fascinating, so the inclusion of a selection of them is definitely a big pro. But the only way you can get access to these theories is by listening, you can't see the text in print. Imagine hearing this excerpt being read aloud by a heavily accented voice and having to understand its meaning at the same time:

"Treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed toward it's central point, that's my little theory. The parallel lines on the horizon give the breadth, the lines perpendicular to the horizon give the depth. Since people perceive nature more in depth than in area one needs to introduce enough blue tones into the reds and yellows that represent light's vibrations to make the air felt."
It took me five tries to figure it out...
Most important on any art-cd-rom, is the way the art-works are presented and can be accessed. On this cd-rom, all of the (250) paintings can be viewed full screen, which is good, but.... I am not satisfied with the quality of all the reproductions. Because of the high saturation of the colours most of them look quite (almost too) dark and this makes it more difficult to see the details. In my own catalogues the colours are quite different, and the same counts for this online-museum's Artchive, which contains more than 120 scans of Cézanne paintings. Generally I think these last ones are much better! Just look and compare...
The zoom function in the workscreen is very effective, because you can see the painting and the details at the same time. But you have to keep looking at the left side of the screen to see the square that indicates where your cursor is going, while moving the mouse with your right hand at the same time, so if you're righthanded you need a good eye-hand-coordination to make this work. I must admit it took me quite a while to get the hang of it....

Concluding I must say that I have mixed feelings about this cd-rom. At first I was quite pleased with it, but after my initial enthusiasm died down a bit, I began to notice its shortcomings. In my opinion some of them are major, especially since I had to pay $80 for it. But on the other hand, Cézanne's theories about painting are really captivating, so I keep playing the cd-rom regularly just to listen to them. Despite the fact that you can't access them in print, I think these theories, and the way they are presented (in over 30 QuickTime-movies) are the cd-rom's greatest asset.





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