King Charles’ first official portrait since coronation proves divisive

Jonathan Yeo

On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace unveiled the initial authorized portrait of King Charles III after his coronation. The portrait has been generating controversy due to the bright and intense red brushstrokes used in it.

Jonathan Yeo - Figure 1
Photo CNN

This painting measures 8.5 by 6.5 feet and was created by Jonathan Yeo, an artist from Britain. Throughout his professional life, Yeo has painted well-known figures such as the ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, actress Nicole Kidman, and education advocate Malala Yousafzai.

Yeo commenced the task when Charles held the title of Prince of Wales. In the artwork, the monarch is garbed in the Welsh Guards attire, holding a sword in hand, set against a vivid, red background that almost engulfs him completely. A butterfly seems to approach to rest on his shoulder.

In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace, Yeo explained that the portrait had changed over time, much like the butterfly fluttering above the subject's shoulder. This evolution was a reflection of the subject's evolving role in public life.

I try my hardest to capture the life experiences that are visible on someone's face when I paint them. For this particular piece, I wanted to pay homage to the traditional style of painting portraits for royalty, but with a modern twist that reflects the current monarchy in the 21st century. Most importantly, my goal was to convey the person's true humanity through my art.

Yeo met with the King on four different occasions, as well as utilizing drawings and photos provided by the palace in their work.

The task was assigned to mark the 50th anniversary of Charles' inclusion in The Drapers' Company. This organization supports education projects and other charitable causes. The artwork will be displayed to the general public at the Philip Mould Gallery in London from May 16 to June 14. Afterwards, it will be showcased at Drapers' Hall from the end of August, alongside other depictions of royalty.

According to reports, the King and Queen are satisfied with the portrait. Yeo shared with BBC that while viewing the result, Camilla confirmed, "Yes you've got him," and the monarch was somewhat surprised by the bold colors but overall appeared content. Social media was filled with opinions on the portrait.

Some people left negative comments on a portrait of a member of the royal family that was posted on their Instagram account. One person expressed that the uniform and the color of the portrait reminded them of the violence caused by colonizers. Another person said that they would have liked the portrait if it was a different color because the red was too harsh for the soft expression on the person's face. Finally, someone else commented that the person in the portrait looked like they were going to hell.

The statement made by Richard Morris, an expert in the field of art history, goes as follows: "The portrait is quite impressive. In the past, when photography did not exist, people had to rely on skilled painters to depict their true likeness. This acceptance of one's imperfections and limited lifespan is what Yeo successfully conveys through this painting."

The well-known artist primarily creates with oil-based paints, but has experimented with something else: collage. As stated on his website, in 2007 he attempted to paint a portrait of ex-US President George W. Bush, but the project didn't come through. Instead, he chose to produce a "humorous tribute" by cutting up explicit magazines to construct a portrait of the former President. It was a critique of "the self-proclaimed righteousness of the far-right in American politics."

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This was the initial installment of an extensive collection portraying famous individuals who are believed to have exploited their sexual conduct. The following entries featured notable names such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sarah Palin, Silvio Berlusconi, and British conservative leader Mary Whitehouse.

Regarding the painting of the King, Yeo expressed on his webpage that the bright shades of the coatings not only match the regal legacy often seen in past depictions but also add a lively, fresh energy to the genre with its evenly intense tint. This delivers a current contrast to more classic portrayals.

He included the butterfly as a representation of natural beauty and emphasized the king's interest in environmental conservation.

Yeo's artworks have become a permanent part of London's National Portrait Gallery's collection.

In 2022, London exhibited a collection of watercolors that belong to The King, who is an artist as well. In the past, The King shared that painting is a calming and beneficial activity that helps refresh and rejuvenate the soul, in a way that other endeavors cannot replicate.

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