When the paintings of the Impressionists first appeared publicly in the 1870s, they created an entirely new type of exhibition picture – small, informal in composition, freely and spontaneously” painted, showing everyday scenes treated in clear bright colour. At the time, the Impressionist vision seemed unintelligible, the antithesis of art. Yet by the turn of the century, this way of painting had swept the western world, and the original masters of the movement in Paris had become rich and famous. Today, our ideas of landscape painting, and even the ways in which we see the world itself, are conditioned by the Impressionist vision, which we accept without question as a ‘natural’ way of seeing and representing our surroundings. More than any other single artist, Claude Monet was the creator of this new idea of painting; his scenes of sailing boats at Argenteuil are synonymous with the popular idea of Impressionism (Plates 18, 20). But this type of painting is only one of the many facets of Monet’s work; in a career of over sixty years, he pursued his basic aim with an originality and an intensity that rarely flagged. This aim he summarized in 1926, the year of his death, in terms he could have used at any time since the 1860s: ‘I have always had a horror of theories; my only virtue is to have painted directly in front of nature, while trying to depict the impressions made on me by the most fleeting effects.’ This central preoccupation led Monet through a sequence of experiments in which he continuously expanded his range of effects. It also forced him to explore with ever greater concentration a basic concern of all landscapists: to find ways of reconciling the perception of three dimensions with the demands of a two-dimensional canvas, to make a picture that is coherent in terms of coloured paint and brushstrokes out of his experiences of objects, distance and atmosphere. Monet’s greatness as a landscapist lies in the completeness of the reconciliation which he achieved, in the ways in which he made the surface relationships within his paintings express the forms and forces of nature.