Vincent van Gogh Visits a Modern Art Gallery and Discovers His Artistic Legacy: A Touching Scene from Doctor Who

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“At the time of his death” – almost two years earlier, in fact – “Van Gogh’s work had begun to attract critical attention”, writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which points out that Van Gogh’s works exhibited “at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890 and with Les XX in Brussels in 1890…were considered by many artists as ‘the most remarkable'” in both exhibitions. Critics wrote rave reviews, and Van Gogh seemed poised to get the recognition everyone knows he deserved in his lifetime. However, Van Gogh himself was not present at these exhibitions. He was first in Arles, where he settled in virtual seclusion (with the exception of 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 public recognition and praise. which his brother Theo tries to poignantly communicate to him in his last letters.

Now imagine that Van Gogh could have experienced the praise bestowed upon him near the end – or the praise bestowed on him hundreds of times in the more than 100 years since his death. This 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 works for most of his life – ends up in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2010, courtesy of the TARDIS. Granted, the scene deals with the inherent pathos with a few tearful musical cues, but watching actor Tony Curran react as Van Gogh, seeing gallery collections of his work and wall-to-wall admirers, is “surprisingly touching.” as Kottke writes. To push the emotional point even further, the Doctor brings in a docent played by Bill Nighy, who explains why “Van Gogh is the best painter of them all.” It’s thick? Fair enough. But try not to choke a bit at the end, I dare you.

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

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

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