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

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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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Comments (9)
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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.

  • Julie Biddle says:

    In Grade 7 or 8 I mis­be­haved in Art class, bad­ly enough to be assigned a pun­ish­ment. Our teacher kept a list of artists and his pun­ish­ment was that you had to research and write an essay about one of the artists on his list. I drew Van Gogh and I am tru­ly grate­ful for that pun­ish­ment! Learn­ing about his life and his art touched me in a pro­found way.

  • coelacanth1938 says:

    One of the best episodes of any­thing, ever. But one thing I’d like to address here is the grow­ing doubt that Vin­cent shot him­self in the chest. Appar­ent­ly he was reg­u­lar­ly threat­ened by local row­dies and one of them got a gun one day and mur­dered Vin­cent. There’s more to it than that, but Vin­cent did not com­mit sui­cide and he died while paint­ing.

    The bul­lies are long gone and Vin­cent is immor­tal.

  • Jonah Kyle says:

    One of the con­ti­nu­ity prob­lems posed is that such a trip would have great­ly affect­ed Vin­cent in a pos­i­tive man­ner to the point of pos­si­bly over­com­ing the afflic­tions of depres­sion he felt that ulti­mate­ly cost his life. How­ev­er, he did keep on hav­ing visions, and in the new con­ti­nu­ity of Vin­cen­t’s life, in the Pan­dor­i­ca Opens episode, he was mad­dened when he had visions of the Tardis explod­ing in the paint­ing he drew, which in this con­ti­nu­ity led to his sui­cide.

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