‘The most progressive royal portrait in a very long time:’ Art dealer calls Jonathan Yeo’s red, fiery painting of King Charles ‘extraordinary’

By Rebecca English Royal Editor and Mark Duell and Emily Jane Davies

7:32 PM May 14, 2024, updated 7:35 PM May 14, 2024

An art dealer has praised King Charles’ new fiery red painting as ‘extraordinary’, describing it as the ‘most progressive royal portrait in a very long time’.

The King today unveiled the first completed official portrait of himself since then the coronation bee Buckingham Palace.

The painting, by renowned artist Jonathan Yeo, was created in 2020 to celebrate the then Prince of Wales’s 50th anniversary as a member of The Drapers’ Company.

It shows His Majesty in the uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which he was appointed regimental colonel in 1975.

The 2300mm x 1655mm portrait will be on display at the Philip Mold Gallery in London for a month from May 16 to June 14.

Art dealer Mr Mold said today: ‘Because it is such an important image it is extremely important that the public gets the chance to see it. It is an extraordinary 3D work of art.

King Charles III greets Sir Philip Mold at the unveiling today
King Charles III prepares today for the unveiling of the painting at Buckingham Palace in London

King Charles III greets artist Jonathan Yeo today at the unveiling of the portrait

‘It is the most progressive royal portrait made from life in a long time. It portrays continuity, mystery and a touch of divinity.

‘Modern art is subversive, sharp. It’s very different from the normal public offerings, but Johnny did it in my opinion. How do you paint a modern monarch? He finished it.”

Today, Yeo spoke about a butterfly in the portrait that echoed Charles’ “metamorphosis” from prince to king during the process – and the monarch joked that it was nice to know he was a chrysalis.

Yeo added: “People often say, is there a secret to taking a good portrait? And I say I don’t really know. Actually, I think there is one, and that’s an interesting topic to start with. And you couldn’t ask for a better one than this, except Her Majesty.’

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As he gestured to Camilla – whose portrait he also painted in 2014 – the comment was greeted with much laughter from those in the palace.

Queen Camilla congratulated Yeo, calling it “fantastic” and kissing him warmly on each cheek.

The canvas size – framed approximately 2.5 by 2.5 meters – was carefully considered to fit within the architecture of Drapers’ Hall and the context of the paintings it will eventually hang next to.

Yeo had four sittings with The King, starting when His Majesty was Prince of Wales in June 2021 at Highgrove, and later at Clarence House.

The last meeting took place in November 2023 at Clarence House.

He also worked from drawings and photography he made of His Majesty, which allowed him to work on the portrait in his London studio between sittings.

Yeo said: “It was a privilege and pleasure to have been commissioned by The Drapers’ Company to paint this portrait of His Majesty the King, the first to be unveiled since his coronation.

‘When I began this project, His Majesty the King was still His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, and like the butterfly I painted over his shoulder, this portrait has evolved as the subject’s role in our public lives is changed.

‘I do my best to capture the life experiences etched into the face of each individual sitter. In this case, my aim was also to reference the traditions of royal portraiture, but in a way that reflects a 21st century monarchy, and above all to convey the deep humanity of the subject.

King Charles unveils his portrait by artist Jonathan Yeo at Buckingham Palace today
The painting will be unveiled for the first time today by King Charles at Buckingham Palace

“I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to capture such an extraordinary and unique person, especially at the historic moment when I became king.”

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At Buckingham Palace, Charles and Queen Camilla were met by The Master of The Drapers’ Company, Tom Harris and Past Master, William Charnley.

Together they joined Yeo who said a few words after His Majesty unveiled the portrait.

Guests included other members of the Drapers’ Company, students and staff from the Drapers’ Academy, Welsh Guards and Yeo’s family.

The portrait will be on public display at the Philip Mold Gallery in London for a month from Thursday until June 14. Entrance is free.

When the king unveiled the first official completed portrait of himself as monarch, which shows his ‘metamorphosis’ from prince to monarch, he exclaimed about the weight of the covering.

“Christ,” the king exclaimed, pulling on the giant red bow that held him up.

“I wondered what the frame would look like,” His Majesty said. for whom the painting was not a complete surprise. Apparently he saw it when it was ‘two-thirds’ done.

‘It’s actually remarkable how it turned out. ‘

“Has it changed that much since you last saw it?” the artist asked.

“A little,” Charles joked. “You’ve been messing around here, haven’t you? ‘

King Charles smiles as he arrives today for the unveiling, which he attended four times, starting when he was Prince of Wales in June 2021
Charles stands today at Buckingham Palace next to Jonathan Yeo who painted the portrait

King Charles smiles with artist Jonathan Yeo, pictured today next to his official portrait

Yeo said to the sound of chuckling, “Someone asked if revelations make me nervous and the answer is not normal. But normally the subject does not become king halfway through the process.

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‘It’s a joy and an honor to be here. I would especially like to thank the subject for trusting me and giving me so much of his time.

‘People often say there’s a secret to making a good portrait and… that’s that you have to have an interesting subject to start with.’

Yeo, who has also painted Queen Camilla, laughed further: “I couldn’t ask for anything better than this, except Her Majesty.”

Explaining his vision – and that butterfly – he said, “I won’t go on about the photo except to explain two artistic license pieces. One of these is of course the color, which is inspired by the color of the bright red tunic of the Welsh Guards. And that gave me the idea that it would be beautiful to take the color and spray it around the photo.

‘The uniform and medals are great references to historic royal portraits of the past, but it felt like this one needed to have a more dynamic and contemporary feel. And hopefully it does. But hopefully at the same time it keeps the focus on the face and eyes, which feels like a very informal part of it.

‘The other thing is the butterfly. I’d like to take all the credit for that, but it was actually the subject’s idea. ‘

‘Was it?’ Charles interjected, laughing.

Queen Camilla warmly greets the artist Jonathan Yeo during the unveiling today
A portrait by Jonathan Yeo of Queen Camilla in 2014, when she was Duchess of Cornwall

Yeo continued, “We had a conversation at the beginning about how nice it would be to have a narrative element that references his passion for nature and the environment. And he said, what about a butterfly on my shoulder, they often do that. I thought ‘ooh, that’s a good idea, I wish I’d thought of that’. It also works to counterbalance the military steel hardness of the sword. It is a small visual device.

‘And when he changed jobs halfway through the process, it resonated, because in art historical terms you have the metamorphosis. It’s nice, such a small, simple visual device tells multiple stories. And perhaps it is a testament to the person’s artistic instincts that he has brought such a lovely, beautiful element into the composition.

‘The great joy and privilege of my work is that I get to paint some clearly fantastic people and spend a unique time with them. And you feel it’s your responsibility as an artist to convey what you sew and experience and try to get that onto canvas and hopefully that’s done with his warmth and kindness and curiosity and humor and the deep humanity of the king. ‘

Charles joked, “It was nice to know I was a doll when you first met me. Well, thanks and congratulations. Fantastic. ‘

When it was pointed out that the butterfly was in fact a monarch butterfly, Yeo said, “Yes, another bit of artistic license. It was originally named after William of Orange, I think. Because it was orange. They are the ones most at risk. ‘

The king replied: ‘I saw them in that extraordinary part of Mexico, in a remarkable forest. Thousands of them. But it’s extraordinary how butterflies come on your shoulder when you’re in the garden or something. I guess it’s lucky if they land on you, you know what I mean?’

Yeo is one of the world’s leading portrait artists whose subjects include industrial designer Sir Jony Ive, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and activists Malala Yousafzai and Doreen Lawrence.

A portrait released by Jonathan Yeo in 2008 of Prince Philip, who died in April 2021

The painting was completed by renowned artist Jonathan Yeo (pictured in London in 2018)

He also produced portraits of actors Nicole Kidman, Giancarlo Esposito, Dennis Hopper, Idris Elba and Sienna Miller, artists Damien Hirst and Grayson Perry, model Cara Delevingne and former world leaders Tony Blair, David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Juan Manuel Santos. .

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In addition, Yeo has previously made assignments for Prince Philip and Camilla.

Thomas Harris, Master at The Worshipful Company of Drapers, who commissioned the painting, explained that the King’s portrait would replace that of Queen Elizabeth in their Court Dining Room.

She will now join Admiral Nelson in court and knock the Duke of Wellington off the wall at Drapers’ Hall in the City of London.

His work is known for both traditional and experimental portraits and has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide.

He is currently an artist trustee of the National Portrait Gallery.

The Drapers’ Company can trace its loyalty to the monarch back to 1364, when it received its first charter from King Edward III.

This formally recognized the brotherhood of Drapers in the City of London and granted them monopoly rights to the cloth trade within the city.

The Company was regularly called upon to supply money, men and weapons as required by the Crown.

From the 18th century onwards, this support changed to the financial support of soldiers and to meeting the needs of the relatives of those who were injured or killed during their service.

Prince Albert, later George VI, became Draper in 1919. Queen Elizabeth II became Draper in 1947 and joined the Court in 2017.

Charles became a Freeman of the Drapers’ Company in 1971, when the Company also provided offices for the newly formed Prince’s Trust at Drapers’ Hall.

The Drapers’ Company also has a substantial philanthropic arm, dating back to Tudor times and now managed through many charities left under its care.