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Is Charles’ portrait a warning about the future of the monarchy? How the artist behind King’s fiery painting used Welsh Guards red and an endangered butterfly to ‘tell multiple stories’

The first portrait of King Charles as monarch has been unveiled, but experts have suggested the artist hid a deeper meaning in key details.

Jonathan Yeo’s 8.5-foot-tall oil on canvas painting was revealed to the public and the royal family during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.

In the painting, the king can be seen standing in his Welsh Guards uniform, with a sword in his hand and a butterfly on his shoulder, while the entire canvas is awash in a dark red color.

Yeo made no secret that he wanted to break with tradition for this session and make this portrait more “dynamic and contemporary”.

This is why viewers can see some of the traditions maintained, like the military outfit and the sword, but with a modern twist with the vibrant red color and the butterfly.

Jonathan Yeo's 8.5ft high oil on canvas painting was revealed to the public and the royal family at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace today.

Jonathan Yeo’s 8.5ft high oil on canvas painting was revealed to the public and the royal family at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace today.

Charles stands today at Buckingham Palace next to Jonathan Yeo who painted the portrait.  In the painting, the king can be seen standing in his Welsh Guards uniform with a sword in his hand and a butterfly on his shoulder, while the entire canvas is awash in a dark red color.

Charles stands today at Buckingham Palace next to Jonathan Yeo who painted the portrait. In the painting, the king can be seen standing in his Welsh Guards uniform with a sword in his hand and a butterfly on his shoulder, while the entire canvas is awash in a dark red color.

One of the most poignant details is the butterfly above the monarch’s shoulder.

Yeo says its inclusion was actually the Kings’ idea, which came about when the two were discussing the story behind the portrait.

“I said, when schoolchildren look at this in 200 years and they look at the who’s who of monarchs, what clues can you give them?

“He said ‘what if a butterfly landed on my shoulder?'”.

Yeo added that “in art history, the butterfly symbolizes metamorphosis and rebirth,” which seemed perfect to him given that Charles’ title had changed during the session.

“When I began this project, His Majesty the King was still His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and just like the butterfly I painted hovering over his shoulder, this portrait has evolved as the role of the subject in our public life has transformed.

“I do my best to capture the life experiences etched on each guardian’s face.”

The artwork was originally commissioned in 2020 to celebrate the then Prince of Wales’ 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company.

The painting was created by renowned artist Jonathan Yeo (photographed in London in 2018)

The painting was created by renowned artist Jonathan Yeo (photographed in London in 2018)

King Charles III is set to unveil the painting at Buckingham Palace in London today.

King Charles III is set to unveil the painting at Buckingham Palace in London today.

A portrait by Jonathan Yeo of Queen Camilla in 2014 when she was Duchess of Cornwall

A portrait by Jonathan Yeo of Queen Camilla in 2014 when she was Duchess of Cornwall

The butterfly also refers to the king’s long-standing interest in the environment, causes “which he championed for most of his life and certainly long before they became a mainstream conversation.”

However, speaking to MailOnline, Professor Geraldine Johnson, head of the history of art department at Oxford University, suggested that the inclusion of the insect could be a nod to the “in danger” future of the monarchy.

“According to Yeo, the butterfly was a casual suggestion from the king. If this is correct, it may be due to Charles’s familiarity with half a millennium of British portraits,” she said.

“But it also undoubtedly reflects his lifelong passion for the natural world. It is questionable, however, whether it was the king or Yeo who made the decision to depict a particular monarch butterfly.

“Although his name evokes royalty, his endangered status may unintentionally say as much about the king’s concerns about the future of the monarchy as it does about the natural world.”

She added that the butterfly “evokes the portraits of Elizabeth I, which feature insects, plants and animals embroidered on her dresses and made into elaborate pendants and brooches.”

King Charles today unveils his portrait by artist Jonathan Yeo at Buckingham Palace

King Charles today unveils his portrait by artist Jonathan Yeo at Buckingham Palace

King Charles smiles as he arrives today for the inauguration, for which he has sat four times, since he was Prince of Wales in June 2021.

King Charles smiles as he arrives today for the inauguration, for which he has sat four times, since he was Prince of Wales in June 2021.

Queen Camilla is pictured warmly greeting artist Jonathan Yeo at the unveiling today.

Queen Camilla is pictured warmly greeting artist Jonathan Yeo at the unveiling today.

The uniform of the Welsh Guards is said to have inspired the red theme. Yeo says on his website that he chose to blur the uniform and define the face to allow viewers a sense of connection with the monarch.

“As a portrait painter, you have this unique opportunity to spend time with a subject and get to know them. So I wanted to minimize visual distractions and allow people to connect with the human being underneath. »

Professor Johnson added: “Red is an eye-catching color that cannot be easily ignored. It’s a color that we associate in everyday life with a warning or a prohibition – think of a stop sign.

“But red also has historical associations with power, notably through a long tradition of royal portraits.

“Napoleon, for example, was depicted on his imperial throne wearing sumptuous red robes trimmed with ermine in an iconic portrait by Ingres, while Henry VIII was depicted by Holbein in a crimson robe.

“Similarly, Queen Victoria was often depicted in official portraits wearing red velvet.”

Yeo has previously produced commissions from Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Camilla, Sir Tony Blair and Lord David Cameron.

The portrait will eventually hang in Drapers’ Hall, a City of London livery business and philanthropic institution.

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