POSTED July 15 2013

A gallery of Vincent van Gogh films: The best, and why?

Tim Roth as Vincent van Gogh

Tim Roth as Vincent van Gogh

With no fewer than six big-screen biographies devoted to him, Vincent van Gogh is, by my count, the most popular artist in the movies. And as is the case with all historical movi, each of the films made about him says as much about the time it was made as it does about Van Gogh.

Among the Van Gogh biopics is Vincente Minnelli’s 1957 Lust for Life, a portrait of the nonconformist artist made during an era of conformity. Also Paul Cox’s 1987 Vincent, reclaiming the artist from the twin contaminations of interpretation and reproduction by having actor John Heard read his letters as the camera beholds the actual landscapes the artist painted.  Also Maurice Pialat’s  1991 Van Gogh, which considers the last two months of the artist’s life when he moved north of Paris to consult at the clinic of Dr. Gachet, a movie that like so many portraits of the artist assume that self destruction and creativity are the yin and yang of the artistic personality.

And then there’s Robert Altman’s 1990 Vincent & Theo (which I’m screening Wednesday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of a series, Portrait of the Artist) a story of the brothers Van Gogh, one a painter and the other a gallerist. Made at a time when the success of a painting or a film was measured in how much it made at the auction house or at the box office, Altman — ever fascinated by process — and scenarist Julian Mitchell frame their double portrait as one of the business of art and the art of business. Tim Roth’s performance as Vincent has a agitated grace, it’s one of the finest performances of this fine actor.

Do you have a favorite Van Gogh (movie)? Why? And if you’re in Philadelphia on July 17, please join me at the PMA.


  1. I remember when Altman’s Vincent & Theo debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and being horrified at the mild reception it got from critics. I thought it was among Altman’s best, but at that point in time it seemed the critics had already discovered him and this movie offered them nothing new. Thanks for writing about it now.

    It is my favorite Van Gogh movie.

  2. Joe Walsh says:

    I know it’s only a small slice of a larger narrative but Akira Kurosawa directing Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh for his 1990 film DREAMS is very tough to beat in my view. Sorry Kirk Douglas.

    • Carrie Rickey says:

      Joe: I love that sequence in Kurosawa’s “Dreams.” But it was hard to include in my list of why different eras needed different van Goghs.

  3. wwolfe says:

    Let’s not forget SCTV’s very funny “Lust For Paint,” a peerless burlesque of Hollywood’s too-frequent approach to the artist’s biopic.

  4. Vincent van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits between the years 1886 and 1889. His collection of self-portraits places him among the most prolific self-portraitists of all time. Van Gogh used portrait painting as a method of introspection, a method to make money and a method of developing his skills as an artist.

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