Vincent van Gogh Visits a Modern Art Gallery & 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 Gau­guin), 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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000+ Art­works by Vin­cent Van Gogh Dig­i­tized & Put Online by Dutch Muse­ums: Enter Van Gogh World­wide

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

Free Libraries Shaped Like Doc­tor Who’s Time-Trav­el­ing TARDIS Pop Up in Detroit, Saska­toon, Macon & Oth­er Cities

Down­load Free Doc­tor Who Back­grounds for Vir­tu­al Meet­ings (Plus Many Oth­er BBC TV Shows)

A Com­plete Archive of Vin­cent van Gogh’s Let­ters: Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed and Ful­ly Anno­tat­ed

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

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