Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327
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” (James). Regardless of their attractiveness, however, they are both seemingly shy and reluctant to disclose their business with the narrator. 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.
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. No matter how hard he tries, the artist can not successfully recreate their images. 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 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 artists pays the couple their earned money, and they unhappily leave, never to be 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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489
An artist is visited one day in his studio by a middle-aged couple, Major and Mrs. Monarch. At first the artist assumes that they have come to commission a portrait, but he soon learns that they want, instead, to pose as paid models. He observes that the Monarchs, though on the edge of poverty, are an eminently respectable pair, well-mannered, immaculately poised—in effect, as their name suggests, the very embodiment of taste, refinement, and class.
Hoping that they might prove ideal subjects for a series of illustrations he is engaged in creating for a publisher, the artist agrees to hire them, though their very authenticity causes him to have vague misgivings. They are the “real thing,” but they are still amateurs, and the artist is more confident of his ability to work with his professional models, Oronte and Miss Churm.
Miss Churm is an ill-mannered cockney who “couldn’t spell and loved beer” but who can represent anything from an aristocrat to a beggar. The artist regards her as an excellent model. As for Oronte, he is an Italian vagrant who found his way to the artist’s studio and who has become as good a model, in the artist’s eyes, as Miss Churm. He is, the narrator relates, as good at posing as an Englishman as Miss Churm is as an Italian.
Against these two, the Monarchs must compete for the artist’s favor, though at first they assume that their own credentials as aristocrats will be warrant enough for their success. Try as he might, however, the artist cannot do anything with them. He draws Mrs. Monarch many times, in many ways, always failing to capture what he wants. With Major Monarch the situation is worse, his representation being always gigantic and out of scale. Eventually the artist manages several drawings with both husband and wife and sends them to the publisher for approval.
Meanwhile, a fellow artist and friend of the narrator has returned from Paris, where he has studied some of the great works and where he has, as the narrator says, “gotten a fresh eye.” Viewing some of the artist’s illustrations with the Monarchs as models, the friend expresses his disapproval. The artist insists that the illustrations are good, but his friend counsels him to get rid of the models or risk his career.
Despite his friend’s remonstrances, the artist continues to keep the Monarchs as models, not so much out of respect for their gentility as out of compassion for their impoverishment. Ultimately the artist rejects them by working exclusively with Oronte and Miss Churm. “I can’t be ruined for you,” he tells the major, petulantly.
In a final humiliation, the Monarchs plead for a position, even offering to act as servants. For almost a week the artist keeps them on, but in the end, saddened by their failure, he pays them off and never sees them again.