July 25, 2016

Tablet App Reveals Secrets of Van Gogh Paintings

By Rob Klindt, Contributing Writer | Literacy Resources

For generations, art teachers have relied on textbooks, prints, photographs and sometimes visits to a museum or gallery to teach students about classic artists like Rembrandt, Monet and Raphael. Today, digital tablet technology can put detailed works by master artists directly into students’ hands.

There are dozens of educational apps for tablets that focus on classic artists and their paintings. Among them is “Touch Van Gogh” which focuses on Vincent Van Gogh, a 19th century Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who lived between 1853 and 1890.

Released by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the free app includes nine detailed images of the artist’s most iconic works. Also included are study documents about Van Gogh, including:

  • Biographical information
  • Letters
  • Painting overviews
  • Research findings
  • Sketches

The app makes a great supplement to middle school and high school art lesson plans. It also can be very helpful for students in independent study or homeschool programs.

How it works

The “Touch Van Gogh” app launches with a simple interface anchored by thumbnail images of the first three of Van Gogh’s paintings. To slide the other images into view, students tap a navigation arrow on the right side of the screen.

Tapping an individual thumbnail image launches a full-screen image of the painting. Tapping again launches a collection of interactive tools that guide students through the app. Students can study the images in any order.

The idea is to engage students while they learn by letting them become “art detectives” as they examine each painting and look for hidden details in the brushstrokes, lighting, colors, canvases and frames.

The app includes nine of Van Gogh’s oil on canvas paintings created between 1885 and 1890:

  • “Daubigny’s Garden”
  • “Field with Irises near Arles”
  • “Garden of the Asylum”
  • “Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes”
  • “Seascape near Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer”
  • “Self-Portrait as a Painter”
  • “The Bedroom”
  • “The Cottage”
  • “View from Theo’s Apartment”

A versatile suite of interactive tools guides students through each painting. Some tools prompt students to rub the screen with a finger to reveal hidden details in a painting. Other tools require a student to drag an onscreen bar to adjust the light to see brushstroke details, enhanced textures and color changes. On other paintings, dragging a timeline bar shows how a painting developed over time or the actual location that inspired the artist.

One of the most interesting things about Van Gogh was his tendency to “recycle” canvases by painting new scenes over old ones. A good example of this is his 1885 painting, “The Cottage.” When art researchers made X-rays of the painting, they discovered a landscape painting of a shepherd and his sheep painted directly under the bucolic cottage scene.

Rubbing the cottage image with a finger uncovers an enhanced view of the shepherd painting along with study details about its origin. On other paintings, students can rub away discolored layers of varnish to reveal restored colors and other not-easily-seen features.

What’s included

Content in the “Touch Van Gogh” app is all inclusive. Once it’s been downloaded to a device, all the content, including paintings, photographs, descriptions, study documents and interactive features, are available without an internet connection.

There are no advertisements or in-app purchases, and registration isn’t required.

Download details

The “Touch Van Gogh” app is free. It can be downloaded through Google Play and is compatible with digital tablets running the Android operating system 4.1 or later. It’s also available on iTunes and is compatible with iPad tablets running iOS version 6.0 or later.

Rob Klindt’s “App Reviews” combine his passion for writing with an ever-growing interest in educational technology. His simple, straightforward approach to reviewing educational apps help educators and parents leverage new tools for students in and out of the classroom.

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