Vincent van Gogh Visits a Modern Museum & Gets to See His Artistic Legacy: A Touching Scene from Doctor Who

“By the time of his death”—almost two years before, in fact—“Van Gogh’s work had begun to attract critical attention,” writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who point out that Van Gogh’s works shown “at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890 and with Les XX in Brussels in 1890… were regarded by many artists as ‘the most remarkable’” in both exhibits. Critics wrote glowing appreciations, and Van Gogh seemed poised to achieve the recognition everyone knows he deserved in his lifetime. Still, Van Gogh himself was not present at these exhibitions. He was first in Arles, where he settled in near-seclusion (save for Gaugin), after cutting off part of his ear. Then, in 1889, he arrived at the asylum near Saint-Rémy, where he furiously painted 150 canvases, then shot himself in the chest, thinking his life’s work a failure, despite the public recognition and praise his brother Theo poignantly tried to communicate to him in his final letters.




Now imagine that Van Gogh had actually been able to experience the acclaim bestowed on him near the end—or the acclaim bestowed on him hundreds of times over in the more than 100 years since his death. Such is the premise of the clip above from Doctor Who, Series 5, Episode 10, in which Van Gogh—who struggled to sell any of his work through most of his lifetime—finds himself at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2010, courtesy of the TARDIS. Granted, the scene milks the inherent pathos with some maudlin musical cues, but watching actor Tony Curran react as Van Gogh, seeing the gallery’s collections of his work and the wall-to-wall admirers, is “unexpectedly touching,” as Kottke writes. To drive the emotional point even further home, the Doctor calls over a docent played by Bill Nighy, who explains why “Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all.” Laying it on thick? Fair enough. But try not getting a little choked up at the end, I dare you. 

via Kottke (who just redesigned his site, check it out.)

Related Content:

Download Hundreds of Van Gogh Paintings, Sketches & Letters in High Resolution

Martin Scorsese Plays Vincent Van Gogh in a Short, Surreal Film by Akira Kurosawa

Watch the Trailer for a “Fully Painted” Van Gogh Film: Features 12 Oil Paintings Per Second by 100+ Painters

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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  • Robert Monroe, Jr. says:

    This is one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes. I tear up every time I watch this scene.

  • John Conolley says:

    I didn’t listen to the words, but if were Van Gogh, I’d be thinking, “Where were they when I was hungry?”

  • Sue Hutchings says:

    Well, dang, now I can barely see to type. Allergies, I guess. Sniff! I’ve always loved Van Gogh. The first painting of his I saw was the Wheatfield With Cypresses and I loved it. Then I saw his Starry Night paintings and my heart beat faster. I would like to think that he somehow knows how much we love his artwork. Rest in peace, Vincent.

  • Daniel says:

    In the same episode there is also a beautiful scene with van Gogh, the Doctor and Amy looking at the sky and van Gogh describing what he sees. They lock hands and the whole natural night sky turns into one giant Starry Night sky, showing Amy and the Doctor (and the audience) what he sees. Beautifully done.

    (As for seeing the recognition — I am more skeptical. If you really think you are worthless, even this kind of success could be put down in moments of hopelessness and despair. Like it was all a short time fluke, some fad that only happened for a mere hundred or so years. Self-doubt and hopelessness is … crushing and not easily defeated, and rarely once and for all.)

  • Christy Bankston says:

    I feel the same. It is one of my favorite episodes.

  • William says:

    Gets me every time. {{{water works}}} There should be a NSFW warning. Lol.

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