King Charles has revealed first official portrait since coronation

Publish Date
Wednesday, 15 May 2024, 8:50AM
Photo / Getty Images

Photo / Getty Images

The King has unveiled the first official portrait of himself since the coronation, which was started three years ago when he was Prince of Wales.

The work, by Jonathan Yeo, began in 2021 with sittings at Highgrove and Clarence House.

The final of four sittings took place in November 2023, when he was King, with Yeo aiming to capture His Majesty’s “life experiences” and how his “role in our public life has transformed”.

The portrait was unveiled by the King, in front of the Queen, the artist and his family, at Buckingham Palace.

It was commissioned in 2020 to celebrate the then-Prince of Wales’ 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company, intended to be ready for the anniversary in 2022.

Instead, it was updated to capture the Sovereign, becoming his first portrait since the coronation.

The King is shown wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which he was made Regimental Colonel in 1975.

Yeo also worked in his London studio, from drawings and photographs he had taken of the King during the process.

The canvas is around 2.5m to 1.9m when framed and will eventually hang in Drapers’ Hall.

Artist Jonathan Yeo and King Charles III stand in front of the portrait of the King Charles III. Photo / Getty Images

‘I do my best to capture life experiences’

Yeo said: “When I started this project, His Majesty The King was still His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and much like the butterfly I’ve painted hovering over his shoulder, this portrait has evolved as the subject’s role in our public life has transformed.

“I do my best to capture the life experiences etched into any individual sitter’s face.

“In this case, my aim was also to make reference to the traditions of royal portraiture but in a way that reflects a 21st century monarchy and, above all else, to communicate the subject’s deep humanity.

“I’m unimaginably grateful for the opportunity to capture such an extraordinary and unique person, especially at the historic moment of becoming King.”

Yeo said the King had personally suggested he include a butterfly in the portrait, during a conversation about “how it would be nice to have a narrative element that referenced his passion for nature and the environment”.

Addressing the King after the painting was unveiled, he told him: “You said ‘what about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?’

“I thought ‘that’s a good idea, I wish I’d thought of that’.”

The butterfly, he said “also works as a counterpoint of the military steeliness of the sword” in the picture, with added resonance of the King’s own “metamorphosis” in a public role.

“He changed jobs halfway through the process,” Yeo clarified, adding he had tried to capture the “warmth and kindness and curiosity and humour and deep humanity of the King”.

“Perhaps it is testament to the subject’s own artistic instinct that it’s such a lovely, beautiful element into the composition.”

Yeo chose a monarch butterfly to include in the portrait. The endangered insect is characterised by its orange and black wings, with white spots.

After Yeo’s speech, the King joked “it’s nice to know I was a chrysalis when you first met me”.

Jonathan Yeo, the artist behind the portrait, said he tried to capture the King's 'warmth and kindness and curiosity and humour'. Photo / Getty Images

The Queen said she “hopes it is going to be seen by lots of people” after the unveiling.

The King pulled a red ribbon at the centre of a large piece of black fabric to unveil the portrait to applause, appearing delighted by the sight of the picture and immediately asked about the frame.

“It is remarkable actually, how it’s turned out,” he said, after studying it, and noted the artist had been “fiddling away” since he last saw it when it was around.

Yeo joked that people often ask if he got nervous about unveiling his portraits, gesturing at his surroundings in Buckingham Palace and saying: “Well no, not normally, but the subject doesn’t usually become King halfway through the process.”

The first portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II after her accession was completed in October 1952, after a series of one-hour sittings at Buckingham Palace.

The artist, Douglas Granville Chandor, had been commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt, and the painting of the then Queen in an evening gown and Order of the Garter was given to the British Embassy in Washington, DC.

The most famous early portrait of Elizabeth II, by Pietro Annigoni, was painted over 16 sittings across four months.

Yeo has previously painted the Queen, when she was Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Philip. He was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II to draw Sir David Attenborough for the Royal Collection.

His work has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.

The portrait will go on free public display for a month at the Philip Mould Gallery in London, from May 16 to June 14. The artwork will be displayed at Drapers’ Hall from the end of August.

This article was first published by NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.

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