Charles unveils first portrait since Coronation which includes butterfly capturing 'metamorphosis from Prince to King'

14 May 2024, 17:02 | Updated: 14 May 2024, 17:17

King Charles III's first official portrait since his coronation
King Charles III's first official portrait since his coronation. Picture: Jonathan Yeo

By Christian Oliver

King Charles' first official portrait since his Coronation has been unveiled - three years after he first sat for the artwork as Prince of Wales.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Artist Jonathan Yeo began the work in 2021 with the first sittings at Highgrove and Clarence House.

The fourth and final sitting took place in November last year following his Coronation as monarch.

The artist sought to capture his “life experiences” and how his “role in our public life has transformed" as his role transitioned from Prince to King.

It was unveiled by Charles himself, with the Queen, the artist and his family all present at the ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Artist Jonathan Yeo with King Charles and the artist's family at the unveiling of the portrait of the King, Buckingham Palace, London
Artist Jonathan Yeo with King Charles and the artist's family at the unveiling of the portrait of the King, Buckingham Palace, London. Picture: Alamy

Read More: British woman who saved her twin sister from crocodile attack is first to be given King's bravery medal from Charles

Read More: King Charles reveals side-effect of ongoing treatment in emotional chat with cancer sufferer

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

It was intended to be ready for the official anniversary in 2022, but was instead updated to portray Charles as monarch.

The 8.5ft by 6.5ft (2.6m by 2m) canvas shows the King in the uniform of the Welsh Guards - the regiment he was made Regimental Colonel of 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.

After the unveiling, Yeo said he would "love to take full credit for that" but it was "actually the subject's idea". He said the King thought it would be "nice to have a narrative element which referenced his passion for nature and environment".

The artist 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.

Artist Jonathan Yeo, at the unveiling of his portrait of the King
Artist Jonathan Yeo, at the unveiling of his portrait of the King. Picture: Alamy

Explaining his process over the past few years, Yeo said: “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.”

Yeo previously produced commissions of 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 company and philanthropic institution.

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 first go on public display for a month at the Philip Mould Gallery in London, from May 16 until June 14 - where entry is free - before it is displayed at Drapers' Hall by the end of August.