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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 548

The story opens with the arrival of a gentleman and lady, later known as Major and Mrs. Monarch, at the home of the narrator, whom the reader learns to be a portrait artist. Upon meeting, the narrator describes the couple as “striking” and “distinguished.” Regardless of their attractiveness, however, they are both seemingly shy and reluctant to disclose their business with the narrator. The artist assumes that they are seeking to receive a portrait from him. Eventually, through an ambiguous conversation, the reader learns that the couple has visited the artist in hopes that he will sketch them as models. As the conversation continues, the couple explains that, through a series of circumstances, they have lost their fortune and are attempting to model, despite their older age, in order to make additional income. The couple was thinking that they might be able to make a bit of money by modeling as “aristocrats,” even though they have lost their money. They were hoping to be featured in the artwork the artist creates for books and periodicals—jobs he takes to support himself. 

Skeptical, the artist asks if the two have any modeling experience. To his surprise, they have indeed been photographed before. The narrator has concerns they will not make good models. He holds this opinion not because of their status but because he prefers to find inspiration in his subjects. It seems that, thus far, he has not found inspiration in them or their story. They vouch for themselves and he agrees to use them as models.

At this point, the narrator begins to interpret the couple’s past, imagining what their lives have been like. He believes that they probably never had a surplus of money but, instead, were accepted into high society because of their beauty and cheerful nature. Continuing on, the narrator meets with the couple again. They begin to be subjects in the artist’s modeling sketches, but he is unhappy with his replication of Major and Mrs. Monarch. He finds them to be stiff and unable to fit into characters: they merely look like Major and Mrs. Monarch. No matter how hard he tries, the artist can not successfully recreate their images in the way he wants. Soon, the artist’s friend views the drawings of the Monarchs and expresses his disapproval of the quality of the work. He encourages the artist to get rid of the two subjects or risk the unfortunate portraits hurting his career forever. The narrator focuses his work on other models.

The narrator briefly continues to see the Monarchs, but soon, he heeds the friend’s warning. He tells the couple that he can no longer work with them. Despite their pleas, the artist pays the couple their earned money, and they unhappily leave. They return in the middle of a modeling session and begin cleaning the studio. The narrator is disturbed: the Monarchs are behaving as his servants. Though he agrees to let them stay on as servants, he becomes too perturbed by the situation to let them continue. He pays them to leave and they are never seen again. In the end, the artist says that even though it hurt his career, he was "content to have paid the price—for the memory" of the Monarchs.

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