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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CD-ROM Art Guide Wins Acclaim

BELLEVUE, Washington -- When Microsoft chairman Bill Gates announced plans to acquire digital reproduction rights to some of the world's greatest works of art, the news was greeted with horror by some museum curators.


They feared the billionaire software-company chief aimed to corner the electronic market for masterpiece paintings, perhaps for no other reason than to entertain himself and guests at his futuristic $20 million home being built on the shore of Lake Washington.


Now, six years later, the company Gates founded to pursue that vision has won over some skeptics and seems likely to win more with the critical success of its first CD-ROM, a guide to one of America's most unusual collections of great art.


Corbis Corp., as Gates' "other company" is known, has set up a separate subsidiary to market images from an archive of more than 250,000, a number it plans to triple this year, executives said.


Corbis president Doug Rowan said the company would generate "substantial revenue" this year for the first time since it was founded, but he does not expect the company to be profitable for at least two years as Gates continues to pour money into the acquisition of more images.


Gates, who owns 100 percent of the company, is actively involved in its operations, said Rowan.


Corbis' first CD, "A Passion for Art," is a virtual guide to the Barnes gallery in Merion, Pennsylvania, allowing the user to enter any of its 26 rooms and turn to view works on all four walls. Viewers can zoom in with a mouse and get more information on any painting.


But creators of the disk say its most important feature is that it tells an entertaining story, explaining the history of the 70-year-old collection and its founder through a newsreel-like introduction, several guided tours, and a selection of letters and other materials from Barnes' archives.


In many ways the Barnes was a surprising candidate for a CD-ROM, since the gallery itself, which houses one of the world's greatest private collections of modern art, has been virtually closed to the public since its founder's death in 1922.


Richard Glanton, a Philadelphia lawyer who is president of the Barnes foundation, said many museum directors counselled him against selling digital rights to the Barnes' paintings, saying high technology could make the art irrelevant. But Gates closed the deal in a 15-minute pitch, outlining how electronic databases would change education for years to come, Glanton said.