“At the time of his death”—nearly two years earlier, in fact—“Van Gogh’s work was beginning to attract critical attention,” writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which points out that Van Gogh’s work was exhibited “at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890 and with Les XX in Brussels in 1890… considered by many artists to be ‘the most extraordinary’” of both exhibitions. Critics wrote glowing appreciation, and Van Gogh seemed poised to achieve the recognition everyone knew he deserved in his lifetime. Still, Van Gogh himself was not at the exhibition. He was first in Arles, where he settled near exile (except for Gauguin), having cut off part of his ear. Then, in 1889, he arrived at an asylum near Saint-Rémy, where he angrily painted 150 canvases, then shot himself in the chest, thinking his life’s work had failed, despite public recognition and acclaim, his brother Theo painfully tried to communicate with him. him in his last letters.
Now imagine Van Gogh actually being able to experience the praise he was given towards the end — or the praise he was given hundreds of times over the more than 100 years since his death. Such is the premise of the above clip from Doctor who, Series 5, Episode 10, in which Van Gogh—who struggled to sell any of his works for most of his life—finds himself at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2010, courtesy of the TARDIS. Granted, the scene exudes an inherent pathos with a few sappy musical cues, but watching actor Tony Curran react as Van Gogh, looking through a gallery collection of his work and wall-to-wall admirers, is “unexpectedly moving,” as Kottke writes. To drive the emotional point further home, the Doctor calls in a guide played by Bill Nighy, who explains why “Van Gogh is the best painter of them all.” Put it on thick? Fair enough. But try not to get a bit choked up in the end, I dare you.
Note: A previous version of this post appeared on our site in 2016.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagnes