King Charles III’s First Portrait Since Coronation Is Getting Panned

Artist Jonathan Yeo and King Charles III at the unveiling of artist Yeo’s portrait of the King, in the blue drawing room at Buckingham Palace, London.

The first official portrait of King Charles III since his coronation last year was unveiled at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the King, the media, and the artist unveiled the work by British artist Jonathan Yeo, which has since been panned online.

The seven-and-a half-foot-tall painting shows Charles facing the viewer head-on, wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards with a sword in hand. He’s pictured against a backdrop of mottled reds and pinks, so that the King’s body appears to disappear into the background. His facial expression appears pensive. Above his shoulder rests a butterfly.

Yeo has long been a prominent portrait painter of royals and celebrities, including Queen Camila, Prince Philip, former prime minister Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, and Damien Hirst, among others.

Criticism rolled in quickly. The New York Times’s chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman, wrote that the painting’s primary color “almost instantaneously gave new meaning to the idea of ‘seeing red,’” adding that the usage of the shade is “particularly fraught.” Meanwhile, in a piece for the Cut, writer Danielle Cohen suggested that “Charles’s face is like a disembodied specter of death floating between violent brushstrokes.”

The takes from social media users were predictably more brutal. Among the associations brought up: “Archdemon of Hell,” “Satan,” “bathing in blood,” “surrounded by the spilled blood of the British Empire,” “a portal into the nether realm,” a literalized firestorm of controversy. Those were just the most family-friendly takes; it gets worse from there, as it usually does on X these days.

At least one critic liked the work. Richard Morris wrote on X, “I really like the portrait of King Charles by Jonathan Yeo – the go-to artist for slightly edgy but convincingly recognisable contemporary portraits; 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.”

As for the King’s opinion of the portrait, Yeo told the BBC that he “was initially mildly surprised by the strong colour but otherwise he seemed to be smiling approvingly.”

At the unveiling ceremony, Yeo said in a statement, “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 started this project,” he continued, “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 and humanity etched into any individual sitter’s face, and I hope that is what I have achieved in this portrait. To try and capture that for His Majesty The King, who occupies such a unique role, was both a tremendous professional challenge, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed and am immensely grateful for.”

Yeo completed the painting over the course of four sittings, the first of which was in June 2021. In an interview with the Times, Yeo said that Charles’s demeanor “definitely changed after he became king.”

The portrait was commissioned by the Drapers Company, once a trade association for wool and cloth merchants that is now a philanthropic organization. The work will hang in Drapers’ Hall in London’s financial district, where the company has a gallery of other monarchs, from the end of August. Until that time, it will be on public display at Philip Mould Gallery in London.

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