New King Charles Portrait Sparks Backlash for ‘Blood-Red’ Palette

The first official portrait of King Charles to be painted since his coronation last May has been unveiled at Buckingham Palace.

The large-scale canvas, with a domineering red palette, was painted by artist Jonathan Yeo, who was seen beside the king as the work was presented to the public. The portraitist is known for reproducing the likeness of a whole host of famous faces, including David Attenborough, Malala Yousafzai, and Nicole Kidman. He has also painted Queen Camilla and the king’s late father, Prince Philip.

The painting, which measures nearly nine by seven feet, was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Drapers, a medieval guild of wool and cloth that now focuses on philanthropic endeavors. It will hang in Drapers’ Hall, which has a gallery dedicated to British monarchs.

Its unveiling comes just weeks after the king resumed public duties, following a cancer diagnosis.

The monarch sat for Yeo four times, for about an hour, beginning when he was still Prince of Wales in 2021.

In the portrait, he is pictured wearing a red military uniform that reflects his role as Regimental Colonel in the Welsh Guards. These garments might have influenced the artist’s decision to use a fiery palette, which has proved somewhat divisive.

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

A butterfly also appears by his left shoulder, an addition that was reportedly the king’s suggestion, as a symbol of metamorphosis and rebirth.

While the king appeared to approve of his portrait, as did Queen Camilla, who joined the final sitting and declared, “yes, you’ve got him,” the public perception has been mixed.

While there are some positive comments on the Royal Family’s official Instagram post, declaring it as “spectacular” and “stunning,” others have accused the crimson canvas of depicting the king “burning in hell” and “bathing in blood,” as well as referencing “the colonial bloodshed produced by British imperialism.”

The blood-red palette was also referenced by The Cut, which stated that “Charles’s face is like a disembodied specter of death floating between violent brushstrokes.”

On a more positive note, art critic Richard Morris said on X: “I really like the portrait… before photography, to have a great painter capture your real appearance you accepted the revelation of your flaws and your mortality. It’s what Yeo captures here.”

The satirical news show Have I Got News For You also took to X, joking that the painting must have been the latest victim of a Just Stop Oil protest, by suggesting it had been covered in tomato soup.

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