Learning Made Easy with Painting Portal for iPad


Whether you're someone who just loves to learn or an undergrad trying to absorb all the art history knowledge of all time - have I got a treat for you. I took some time to check out Painting Portal - a helpful compendium of paintings from the iTunes app store. For the short and sweet review, scroll down. Here comes the long form. Painting Portal is connected to a set of public domain images of classic paintings, hosted by WikiMedia. The app acts as a "portal" to these images, and allows users to view and peruse them at their leisure. The app has four general "modes", so to speak. The Home screen, a Catalog, Information, and the Game modes. Unfortunately, there are no in app instructions, but most functions are fairly intuitive. There is a Tutorial Video on their website, but if you're playing on your iPad, it is hardly convenient to close the app and pull that up.

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The Short Version:

The App: Painting Portal, $6.99 from the App Store

The Good: Great learning tool, featuring a diverse load of classic paintings and easy search functions. Game creates instant flashcards and is a great study tool for art history nerds.

The Bad: Doesn't allow searches by painting style, lacks instructions, and isn't the flashiest app out there.

The Verdict: My complaints are nitpicky - if you need a great art history study or teaching tool, or just love to learn, this app is for you. It's a great resource.


The Home screen exists for viewing images. Users can bookmark specific images, zoom in and out, and play a slideshow of them from here.

The Catalog is where it gets real. Users can search for a painting or painter, or, if they have no practical knowledge (like me), search from a bevy of options. Users can search from paintings by date range, country of origin, or painter. The date range function is nice because it breaks it down by century, and also into 25 year increments for the more discerning user. A small preview image appears on the screen when the painting is selected - clicking it takes the user back to the home screen, where they can zoom, bookmark and create slideshows.

After selecting a painting, users can hit the Information tab. This tab brings up Google results for the painting or painter, and users can easily switch between the two. It's an easy and quick way to get more info on a piece, without requiring a curated expertise by the app creator. It's smart - and frankly, where I researching these pieces, how I would begin anyways. The Information tab is just saving users a few steps.

The real gem of this app is the game function -  again, without instructions I was a bit perplexed, but it becomes immediately clear that this would be a very useful tool for art history students. The "game" shows the user an image, and asks for the painter, name of the painting, country of origin, and date range that it was created in. A series of multiple choice answers appear for each question, and users have a short amount of time in which to select answers. After each round, the correct answers are displayed, along with a score and an average score for the user overall. Since users can select for the game to only display bookmarked images, it very quickly becomes a set of digital flashcards. A valuable study tool to be sure. I didn't get a chance to test out the two-player mode, but I imagine it's similar and would allow for competition between users.

There are a few drawbacks to this tool, besides the aforementioned lack of instructions. It's not a very pretty app, with a very utilitarian design - but this demands the question of form versus function, and there's no doubt in my mind that its functionality is far more important. Of course the paintings in the app only extend to 1925, again because of public domain usage, so those seeking later works are out of luck. The only real functionality improvement I can think of would be if paintings could be searched by style. Since styles usually correlate to the date of creation, I can see why it would be left out, but it would be a much easier search if I could call up all the impressionist paintings in one query.

Overall, it's a good app. It runs smoothly, and I found it easy to understand once I was inside. It would make a great study tool for students and teachers alike. It's available from the App Store for $6.99 now.