Portraits ... pets as props or subject?

Since reading Ms. Freeland's book, I've found myself looking at images and portraits with a fresh perspective. Including those that contain animals. I've had some fun (and humorous moments) asking "Is this animal intended as the subject of a portrait or as a prop?"

The story behind the John Singer Sargent portrait of Mr. and Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes has always been a cute and kind of funny story, but now I see it as an interesting illustration of the artist's and sitter's point of view about the subject(s).

Click here to take a look at the image:

As the story goes, Mrs. Stokes had arrived for her portrait sitting in walking cloths along with her husband Mr. Stokes and her dog by their side. Sargent, so taken by the beauty of her crisp traveling garments decided to paint her in this outfit with her dog beside her. When the dog was no longer available in later sittings, the husband is reported to have humbly offered that he would "Be pleased to take the place of the dog".

Take a look at the painting and decide for yourself, given the depiction of Mr. Stokes, if the dog would have been a character or a prop in this portrait.

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