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‘Burning in Hell,’ or ‘Very Fine’? King Charles’ First Official Portrait Unveiled

The first official portrait of King Charles completed since his coronation as British monarch has been unveiled—with his face and body emerging from a striking, ghoulish-looking red miasma, and a butterfly about to land on his shoulder.

The large oil-on-canvas portrait, measuring 8ft 15in by 6ft 15in and created by the renowned painter Jonathan Yeo, features Charles in the garb of the Welsh Guards, holding a sword. Charles was appointed the Guards’ Regimental Colonel in 1975, appointing Prince William to the position in 2023.

The BBC reported that the painting has one confirmed fan: Queen Camilla, who the BBC reported, turned to Yeo and said: “Yes, you’ve got him.”

Inevitably, online opinion raged about the dramatic portrait—about whether it showed Charles’ “acceptance of the revelation of your flaws and your mortality,” or it being a “very fine portrait,” or conversely “like the poster for a truly nightmarish horror movie,” or even so bad it was deemed “absolutely fecking hideous, looks like he is burning in hell.”

A handout image released on May 14, 2024, shows a portrait of Britain's King Charles by artist Jonathan Yeo.

A handout image released on May 14, 2024, shows a portrait of Britain’s King Charles by artist Jonathan Yeo.

His Majesty King Charles III by Jonathan Yeo 2024/Handout via REUTERS

The portrait joins a gallery of other controversial royal renderings, like Lucian Freud’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and Paul Emsley’s portrait of Kate Middleton.

The portrait was commissioned in 2020 to commemorate Charles marking 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company in 2022.

Yeo said Charles had seen the painting in its “half-done state… He was initially mildly surprised by the strong color but otherwise he seemed to be smiling approvingly.”

Yeo—whose other royal sitters included Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and who has painted celebrities like Nicole Kidman—told the BBC that Charles had sat for the portrait four times since 2021. “My interest is really in figuring out who someone is and trying to get that on a canvas,” he said.

As for the presence of the butterfly, it “symbolizes metamorphosis and rebirth,” Yeo said, referencing Charles’ ascension to the throne.

Curator Lauren Porter dusts a portrait by Lucian Freud of Queen Elizabeth II as part of the exhibition The Queen: Portraits of a Monach being shown at Windsor Castle.

Curator Lauren Porter dusts a portrait by Lucian Freud of Queen Elizabeth II as part of the exhibition The Queen: Portraits of a Monach being shown at Windsor Castle.

Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)”

The butterfly also references Charles’ dedication to environment causes that “he has championed most of his life and certainly long before they became a mainstream conversation.”

Yeo told the BBC: “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 (Charles) said, ‘What about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?’”

“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, 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,” Yeo said in a statement.

Paul Emsley poses next to hisoil painting of Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the first commisioned portrait of her, at the National Portrait Gallery in central London, January 11, 2013.

Paul Emsley poses next to hisoil painting of Britain’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the first commisioned portrait of her, at the National Portrait Gallery in central London, January 11, 2013.

Andrew Winning/Reuters

“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,” Yeo added. “I’m unimaginably grateful for the opportunity to capture such an extraordinary and unique person, especially at the historic moment of becoming King.”

As for feeling nervous about how the portrait might be received by the king himself, Yeo joked: “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!”



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