King unveils first completed official portrait of himself since coronation

The King has unveiled the first completed official portrait of himself since the coronation, which includes one detail Charles suggested should be added.

The portrait, by British artist Jonathan Yeo, was commissioned in 2020 to celebrate the then Prince of Wales’s 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company in 2022.

The portrait, which was unveiled on Tuesday afternoon at Buckingham Palace, depicts Charles wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which he was made Regimental Colonel in 1975.

The uniform of the Welsh Guards inspired the colour red, which was painted over much of the portrait, as Yeo said he felt like this portrait should have more of a “dynamic and contemporary feel”.

A butterfly is hovering over the King’s shoulder in the portrait, which was added in by Yeo at Charles’s suggestion.

King Charles III unveils Jonathan Yeo portrait
Artist Jonathan Yeo and the King during the unveiling (Aaron Chown/PA)

After the unveiling, Yeo said he would “love to take full credit for that” but it was “actually the subject’s idea”.

During a conversation with the King, Yeo said they discussed how it would be “nice to have a narrative element which referenced his passion for nature and environment” and he spoke of how Charles “changed jobs halfway through the process” and the butterfly is a “symbol of metamorphosis” so it “tells multiple stories”.

After Yeo’s speech, the King joked “it’s nice to know I was a chrysalis when you first met me,” which was met with laughter.

The Queen said she “hopes it is going to be seen by lots of people” after the unveiling.

King Charles III unveils Jonathan Yeo portrait
The portrait was begun when Charles was Prince of Wales (Aaron Chown/PA)

After the unveiling Yeo said he often says the secret to a good portrait is “having an interesting subject to start with, and you couldn’t ask for a better one than this”, before quickly adding “other than Your Majesty” referring to Camilla who he has previously painted.

Yeo said The Drapers’ Company had asked for the portrait to be a specific scale, and there was a preference for Charles being in uniform, but no other directions from them or the King, which Yeo added was “exciting and also a little bit daunting”.

He said the King “couldn’t be more lively” and was “very easy company” during their sittings, adding: “He kind of makes you laugh and asks lots of questions, and he’s interested in art as well so there’s always lots to talk about.”

King Charles III unveils Jonathan Yeo portrait
The uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which Charles was made Regimental Colonel in 1975, inspired the red colour that is painted over much of the portrait (Jonathan Yeo/PA)

Asked if the King’s accession to the throne had altered his approach, Yeo said “maybe very slightly”, adding “I’d sort of started it but not got very far when he changed jobs, and you can sense his, you know, his face doesn’t change particularly, but I have seen it in politicians, in other sittings before, when people are in office, they do sort of move differently.

“And so I think I was conscious of that. And then when I saw him again, you had this sense of, I don’t know how to explain it, but he seemed very comfortable with himself. And so it’s a sort of subtle thing, but yes, it’s definitely there.”

Yeo said it is “always the person who knows the subject best who gives you the instant visual feedback” and when he could tell Camilla “liked it, or at least recognised it, I knew I was kind of nearly there with it”.

The canvas size – approximately eight-and-a-half by six-and-a-half feet when framed – was carefully considered to fit within the architecture of Drapers’ Hall and the context of the paintings it will eventually hang alongside.

Yeo had four sittings with the King, 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.

Yeo also worked from drawings and photographs he took of the King, allowing him to work on the portrait in his London studio between sittings.

Yeo said: “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.

“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.

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

Jonathan Yeo Portraits exhibition
Artist Jonathan Yeo has also previously produced commissions of Prince Philip, the Queen and former prime ministers Sir Tony Blair and Lord David Cameron (Jonathan Yeo/PA)

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

At Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, the King and Queen were met by The Master of The Drapers’ Company Tom Harris and Past Master William Charnley.

Guests included other members of The Drapers’ Company, students and staff from the Drapers’ Academy, Welsh Guards and Yeo’s family.

The Drapers’ Company dates back more than 600 years, when a group of merchants came together to promote their trade in woollen cloth in London. As their guild and fellowship grew, they made philanthropy part of the plan.

In 2024, The Drapers’ Company has evolved from a trade association into a grant-giving body.

The portrait will go on public display for a month at the Philip Mould Gallery in London, from May 16 until June 14. Entry is free.

The artwork is expected to be displayed at Drapers’ Hall from the end of August.

Philip Mould said it is the “most progressive formal royal portrait” created for a “very long time”.

He added: “As it’s such an important image, it’s quite exciting that the public has the opportunity to get close.”

Mr Mould said monarchy is about “continuity, a touch of divinity” and modern art is “edgy” and added that it is “difficult to pull off both” but that Yeo has done it.