Monet is incontestably one of the greatest Impressionists, as well as being the most popular. Yet hitherto books on this great figure have been partial, concentrating either on aesthetic or on social aspects of his work without attempting a synthesis. Now Virginia Spate restores plenitude of meaning to Monet's paintings, examining the various ways in which they can be read; the tension between image and reality which energizes them; and the mysterious interactions between the work itself, its exhibition, promotion and sale, and its reception both in public and in private. Based on a complete study of the artist's work - made possible as never before by recently published catalogues of his oeuvre - his surviving letters (nearly 3,000 in all) and contemporary documentary material, this is the fullest account available of a complex and influential man whose style changed and evolved considerably during his long career. Monet is considered as an intelligent and cultured being, a friend to writers such as Zola, Mallarme and Octave Mirbeau, fully informed as to the cultural and intellectual tendencies of his time. His often neglected figure paintings, always of family or friends, are analyzed alongside his landscapes, which ranged from timeless river scenes to steam-filled railway stations. Changes in his output in response to shifts in demand are linked to the new system of art dealers and to his financial situation. The France of Monet's youth and maturity is covered in depth, especially the traumatic legacy of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune; and his famous garden at Giverny is shown to be both a personal Utopia and a vital part of his creative processes. The dialectic of the real world and its representation in art is explored in detail as manifested in his splendid canvases - faithfully reproduced in over 130 colour plates. This definitive treatment of a hugely important artist makes an indispensable contribution to the art history of Impressionism and the roots of modernism.