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Masterpiece Theater

If You Can't Make It East for the Show, Web Sites and a CD-ROM Offer Glimpses of Cezanne's Art


Unless you are going to be in Philadelphia before Sept. 1, you're going to miss the only U.S. showing of the Cezanne exhibit, the first major retrospective of the artist's works since 1936.

But you can still get a tantalizing glimpse of what is on display at the 112-painting and 75-drawing exhibition by checking out a couple of sites on the World Wide Web, and you can explore Paul Cezanne's life on a new CD-ROM.

These digital visits to the art of the great French post-Impressionist are just enough to make those of us who are not going to Philadelphia--or did not catch the exhibit at its only other venues, in Paris and London--really jealous.

The first Web site was provided by the Grand Palais in Paris ( You can skip the info about opening hours and tickets, and go straight to the section on selected paintings. There, among Cezanne's last works, you'll find two oil paintings with the same title: "Les Grandes Baigneuses," or "The Great Bathers." The first, which now belongs to the National Gallery in London, was painted between 1894 and 1905, while the second, owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was finished in 1906, not long before the painter died.

The exhibit marks the first time these major works have been shown together since they stood in the artist's studio. The Grand Palais site's much-too-short essay mostly has to do with the order in which art historians believe the works were done (Cezanne rarely signed and never dated his paintings).

At the Philadelphia museum site (, there is information that's of interest if you are going there, including the fact that all docent tours are already sold out. You can click to an introduction by curator Joseph Rishel and then go to his short essay on "Les Grandes Baigneuses." He much favors the later version (owned by his own museum).

"It is a wonder that such a gravely traditional subject," Rishel wrote, "which Cezanne had explored in such ponderous and deliberate ways earlier in his career, was achieved so lightly and with such grace."

To find out a bit more, you can slip the handsomely designed "Paul Cezanne: Portrait of My World" disk, from Corbis, into your CD-ROM drive. This disk, about $45, for both Macintosh and Windows, is organized along the lines of a Web site, with mouse clicks taking you on a journey through the artist's life in a manner that is rarely chronological.

The reproduction, as on other Corbis arts disks, is of high quality, but the image on your screen will be governed by the sophistication of your monitor and video hardware. (The museum Web site reproductions tend to be small; for a much more impressive look at Cezannes online, point your browser toward the WebMuseum site at

The Corbis disk contains a nicely done, but again short essay on the "Bathers" paintings, and includes information about a third and earliest in the series. It can be viewed outside Philadelphia at the quirky Barnes Foundation.

Sadly, although the CD-ROM essay mentions why specific parts of these three paintings are significant, it doesn't make use of digital technology to highlight them. Show-and-tell is mostly reduced to just tell.

All these digital explorations have their uses but are also disappointing. Still, they do demonstrate that used successfully, Web sites and CD-ROMs concerning art can make the viewing of the real thing a far richer experience.

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