Sunday, 23 June

First portrait of King Charles III since coronation unveiled

Jonathan Yeo Studio: Yeo says the butterfly by the King's shoulder symbolises

The first official painted portrait of King Charles III since his coronation has been unveiled at Buckingham Palace.

The vast oil on canvas shows a larger-than-life King Charles in the uniform of the Welsh Guards.

The vivid red work, measuring about 8ft 6in by 6ft 6in, is by Jonathan Yeo, who has also painted Tony Blair, Sir David Attenborough and Malala Yousafzai.

Queen Camilla is said to have looked at the painting and told Yeo: "Yes, you've got him."

In the new portrait, the King is depicted, sword in hand, with a butterfly landing on his shoulder.

Unveilings are always a little nerve-wracking, both for the sitter and the artist, but particularly when one of them is a King.

Yeo jokes: "If this was seen as treasonous, I could literally pay for it with my head, which would be an appropriate way for a portrait painter to die - to have their head removed!"

In reality, Yeo isn't going to lose his head of course - no executions for a badly received portrait of a monarch, in modern times anyway.

| Frank Augstein/AFP via Getty Images: A portrait by Ralph Heimans of the Prince of Wales, as he was then, was unveiled in London's Australia House in 2018

Fortunately, he has also already had a nod of approval from a key royal figure.

The Queen dropped in during the final sitting and said the artist had captured the King well. Yeo says the best judge of a portrait is someone who knows your sitter really well because they have instant recognition of whether it feels familiar.

The King also got a glimpse of it, says Yeo, in its "half-done state… He was initially mildly surprised by the strong colour but otherwise he seemed to be smiling approvingly".

It is a vibrant painting.

The King was made Regimental Colonel in the Welsh Guards in 1975. In the picture, the red of the uniform fades into the red background, bringing the King's face into even more prominence.

Yeo says he wanted the painting to be distinctive and a break with the past. He was aiming for something personal.

"My interest is really in figuring out who someone is and trying to get that on a canvas."

Yeo decided to use some of the traditions of royal portraiture - the military outfit, the sword - but aimed to achieve something more modern, particularly with the deep colour and the butterfly.

He says he's referencing the tradition of official royal portraits but suggesting that's something "from the past and what's interesting about them is something a bit different from that".

"In history of art, the butterfly symbolises metamorphosis and rebirth," he explains, fitting for a portrait being painted of a monarch who has recently ascended to the throne.

The butterfly is also a reference to the King's long held interest in the environment, causes "he has championed most of his life and certainly long before they became a mainstream conversation".

Yeo says it was Charles' idea after they talked about the opportunity they had to tell a story with the portrait.

"I said, when schoolchildren are looking at this in 200 years and they're looking at the who's who of the monarchs, what clues can you give them?

"He said 'what about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?'".

Yeo began the portrait when Charles was still Prince of Wales, with the first sitting at Highgrove in June 2021.