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Sunday, July 7, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tech Reviews

Corbis Offers Easy Way To Get To Know Cezanne

Special To The Seattle Times

It could have gone either way. My mother knows next to nothing about computers, but she has spent hours studying the great painters of Europe. I know zilch about art, but I can find my way around a PC.

When I came home with a copy of "Paul Cezanne: Portrait of My World," a new CD-ROM from Bellevue-based Corbis Publishing, it looked as if one of us was going to learn something new. Something had to give.

As it turned out, it was a pleasing experience for both of us.

First of all, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates owns Corbis, so you know Corbis products work with Windows. With Windows 95, you simply insert your CD and hit Enter three times; the program literally installs itself. This CD is also Macintosh compatible.

Once the $39.95 program was installed, I spent less than 10 minutes explaining to my mother how to use the interface. This may sound cruel, but I assure you, it wasn't. The wizards at Corbis have created such a good interface that even my mother, a woman who doesn't know how to bring up "Solitaire" on Windows, was able to navigate the entire program with 10 minutes of explanation.

When I checked in with her an hour later, she was happily reading about a series of Cezanne's paintings called "The Card Players."

Three hours later, my mother finished her first tour of "Cezanne," said that by reviewing this program she finally understood what people like about computers, and asked if she could look through the program again tomorrow.

What makes "Cezanne" so easy to use is its brilliant layout. It opens in Exploration mode, which lets users meander around important locations in Cezanne's life. You start out in the artist's studio, but you can travel to a cafe/bar and see subjects that inspired him and the art he created. You can also travel to a train station or a museum.

Each locale is depicted in a charcoal sketch with color thumbnail sketches of Cezanne's paintings working as hot buttons. Click on a painting and you're shown a close-up of that work. Many paintings are attached to filmstrips, audio explanations, or slide shows about Cezanne's passions. My favorite stop, when I tried "Cezanne," was Landscapes. This section opens in a small studio, but you can walk to a hillside and see panoramas of the seaside, country, and urban city of the 1890s.

All of this is depicted in black and white sketches with the familiar colored hot buttons. Birds, picnickers, and the ocean provide ambient sounds. Hypnotic!

After exploring those locales, I looked through Cezanne's lengthy biography. This section is more of a timeline than a narrative. It contains paragraph-long entries on an enormous list of events from Cezanne's life.

Perhaps the most innovative feature in "Cezanne" is the Quickmoves section, which lets you search through the artist's extensive collection by selecting tiles from a color-coded box.

The tiles are divided into 10 colors, each tile representing an element of his life. Navy blue tiles, for example, represent biographical works. Gray-green tiles represent works by artists who influenced Cezanne. Click on a tile and you see a thumbnail sketch. Click on the sketch and the picture expands to fill your screen.

Clicking on the expanded picture brings up a text explanation. You can even zoom in on pictures for a better look at small details.

In the end, "Paul Cezanne: Portrait of My World" was so well made that both my mother and I learned things. My mother learned that computers are not always dull and unfriendly. I learned the same thing about the works of Cezanne.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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