‘Bloody hell’: King Charles III’s bright red official portrait raises eyebrows

The last sitting took place in November 2023 at Clarence House. Yeo also worked from drawings and photographs he took, allowing him to work on the portrait in his London studio between sittings.

The first official portrait of King Charles III since his coronation was revealed on Tuesday, sparking division over whether the portrait shows Charles in the best light.

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Or, maybe, his best color.

Charles is wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards in the portrait, but what is most striking is that the monarch is depicted against a fiery red background that appears to almost overcome him whole.

Hovering above his shoulder is a butterfly that looks like it’s about to land.

The 8.5 by 6.5-foot painting is by British artist Jonathan Yeo.

“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,” said Yeo in a statement released by Buckingham Palace.

“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.”

The reveal of the portrait sparked some strong comments on social media:

  • “I know damned well I’m not the only one that thinks King Charles’ portrait is giving off Vigo the Carpathian vibes.”
  • “Bloody hell”
  • “Definitely no secret cult meaning to this painting.”
  • “It looks like it was created with undercooked ground beef.”

Then there were some kinder comments:

  • “I appreciate the attempt at something unconventional, but this new King Charles portrait looks like the poster for a truly nightmarish horror movie.”

And a nice one:

  • “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,” art historian Richard Morris said on X, formerly Twitter.

Despite the social media comments, the painting apparently pleased the only person it needed to — Charles.

Yeo told the BBC that Queen Camilla said, “Yes you’ve got him” after seeing the result, while Charles was “mildly surprised by the strong color, but otherwise he seemed to be smiling approvingly.”

The portrait will hang in Drapers’ Hall which is the home of the historic livery company, which dates back to the 14th century.

According to the palace, Yeo had four sittings with the king, beginning when he was the Prince of Wales. Yeo also worked from drawings and photographs of the king. The painting was commissioned in 2020 to celebrate the then-Prince of Wales’s 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company in 2022.

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