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King Charles' artist Jonathan Yeo explains why he used red for divisive portrait

The painting was unveiled by the monarch at Buckingham Palace

Ainhoa Barcelona
Content Managing Editor
15 May 2024
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The artist behind King Charles' striking new portrait has explained why he chose to use red as the primary colour on his latest masterpiece.

Jonathan Yeo, who attended the unveiling at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, revealed that the only guidance he was given was the size of the portrait and to portray the King in military uniform.

"The only guidance [The Draper's Company, who commissioned the portrait] they gave me was the specific scale because they had other portraits of that size. And there was a preference for it to be in uniform, probably Welsh Guards," said Jonathan.

King Charles and Jonathan Yeo stand in front of portrait© Alamy
Charles called the painting "remarkable" at the unveiling on Tuesday

"Other than that, there was no direction, which is exciting but a little bit daunting. A blank canvas."

The British artist explained: "The red was inspired by the Welsh Guards, but I wanted the painting to be a little more contemporary and not get in the way of seeing the face and the personality. 

"The colour was an early experiment and then I sketched it out and worked on the face, and the face and background worked so well. I just then worked on making sure nothing else interfered with the balance. It was a nice mix of the traditional and the contemporary."

Jonathan Yeo's portrait of King Charles© Jonathan Yeo
The dramatic red hue was inspired by the uniform of the Welsh Guards regiment

The red hue of the Welsh Guards regiment was painted over much of the portrait, which also included a butterfly hovering over the King's shoulder, added in by the artist at Charles' suggestion. 

Not only does the butterfly represent the monarch's passion for nature, but also his metamorphosis from the Prince of Wales to King Charles. 

WATCH: See the King's reaction as he unveils striking portrait

The King had four sittings with the artist, beginning when Charles was Prince of Wales in June 2021 at Highgrove, and later at Clarence House. The last sitting took place in November 2023 at Clarence House.

"When he became king halfway through the process, it worked on that level as well," said Jonathan. "It's a lovely simple device but one with many associations."

On working with the King, he added: "He was a delightful subject, when you are doing someone as significant as that there's a lot of organisation required to get you in the same place. 

"But when you are there, he couldn't be more delightful. Very easy company. He laughs and asks lots of questions and he is interested in art so there is always a lot to talk to about."

King Charles unveils portrait painting at Buckingham Palace© Alamy
The King officially unveiled the portrait at Buckingham Palace with Queen Camilla by his side

Charles looked seemingly pleased by the final product when he unveiled the painting in the palace's Blue Drawing Room this week, in front of Jonathan and his wife Queen Camilla. "It is remarkable, actually, how it has turned out," he said.

Joking about the butterfly reference, he added: "It was nice to know I was a chrysalis when you first met me. Well, thank you and congratulations. Fantastic."

LISTEN: Why Harry and Meghan didn't bring Archie and Lilibet on their Nigeria trip

The painting sparked varied reactions from royal fans on social media, with many unsure about the dramatic red hue.

"I would have loved this if it was any other colour than red. He really captured the essence of him in the face, but the harshness of the red doesn't match the softness of his expression."

Another joked: "It shall henceforth be known as: 'the Strawberry jam portrait.'"

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