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King Charles’ First Official Portrait Since Coronation Unveiled, Painted by Jonathan Yeo

by Ikenna Ngere

At Buckingham Palace, the first official painted portrait of King Charles III since his coronation has been exhibited.

The enormous oil painting on canvas depicts a larger-than-life King Charles wearing a Welsh Guards uniform.

The striking red piece, which measures approximately 8 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 6 inches, was painted by Jonathan Yeo, who has also painted Malala Yousafzai, Sir David Attenborough, and Tony Blair.

After seeing the artwork, Queen Camilla is reported to have remarked to Yeo, “Yes, you’ve got him.”

The King is shown holding a sword in the new painting, and a butterfly landing on his shoulder.

Both the sitter and the artist experience some anxiety at unveilings, but it’s especially overwhelming when one of them is a king.

Yeo said: “If this was seen as treasonous, I could literally pay for it with my head, which would be an appropriate way for a portrait painter to die – to have their head removed!”

King Charles' First Official Portrait Since Coronation Unveiled, Painted by Jonathan Yeo

Yeo won’t actually lose his head, of course; in the present era, executions for a poorly received picture of a monarch are unheard of.

Luckily, he has already received the endorsement of a significant royal person.

During the last sitting, the Queen stopped by and remarked on how nicely the artist had depicted the King. According to Yeo, the ideal person to critique a portrait is someone who knows your sitter well because they can tell right away if the subject looks recognisable.

Yeo claims that the King also saw it in a “half-done state.” The vibrant colour stunned him a little at first, but other than that, he appeared to be grinning broadly.”

In 1975, the King was promoted to Regimental Colonel in the Welsh Guards. The King’s face stands out even more in the photo as the crimson of the uniform blends into the red background.

Yeo claims that he intended the painting to be unique and a departure from the past. He had a personal goal in mind.

“My interest is really in figuring out who someone is and trying to get that on a canvas.”

Yeo chose to incorporate certain elements of the royal portraiture tradition—the military uniform and the sword, for example—while also trying to go for a more contemporary look, especially with the rich colour and the butterfly.

Although he claims to be alluding to the custom of official royal portraits, he makes the suggestion that this is something “from the past and what’s interesting about them is something a bit different from that”.

“In history of art, the butterfly symbolises metamorphosis and rebirth,” he explains, fitting for a portrait being painted of a monarch who has recently ascended to the throne.

The butterfly is also a reference to the King’s long held interest in the environment, causes “he has championed most of his life and certainly long before they became a mainstream conversation”.

Yeo claims that Charles came up with the concept after they discussed the chance to use the photo to tell a tale.

“I said, when schoolchildren are looking at this in 200 years and they’re looking at the who’s who of the monarchs, what clues can you give them?

“He said ‘what about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?'”.

Yeo started work on the portrait in June 2021 at Highgrove, while Charles was still the Prince of Wales.

BBC

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