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The controversy behind King Charles’ new royal portrait, explained

King Charles' first official portrait since his May 2023 coronation has raised eyebrows around the world.
/ Source: TODAY

A bold new portrait of King Charles III is causing quite a range of reactions.

The portrait, the first official one of Charles, 75, since his May 2023 coronation, was painted by British artist Jonathan Yeo — and it's dividing fans with its dramatic depiction of the king.

In a short video the royal family posted to social media platforms, the king can be seen unveiling the painting while standing alongside Yeo May 14 at Buckingham Palace.

The painting depicts the king in the red uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which he was made regimental colonel in 1975, according to a Buckingham Palace press release.

The king poses, hands on his sword, amid a background with the dominant color of red. Over the king’s right shoulder hovers a monarch butterfly.

In the video of the portrait’s unveiling, King Charles and Yeo both pause to admire the portrait as attendees clap.

Though the reaction to the portrait within the royal family appears to have been positive — Charles' wife, Camilla, the queen consort, reportedly told Yeo, “Yes, you’ve got him,” according to the BBC — others have been shocked by the modern portrait.

“I’m sorry but his portrait looks like he’s in hell,” one person wrote in the comments of the royal family’s Instagram pic of the painting.

“Without sounding rude, this is the worst royal portrait I’ve ever seen,” another person chimed in.

Artist Jonathan Yeo and King Charles III stand in front of the portrait of the King Charles III as it is unveiled in the blue drawing room at Buckingham Palace. The artwork depicts the King wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which he was made Regimental Colonel in 1975. The canvas size - approximately 8.5 by 6.5 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.
Jonathan Yeo and King Charles III stand in front of the king's' portrait at Buckingham Palace on May 14, 2024.Aaron Chown / Getty Images

Others had a more mixed reaction to Yeo’s work. “He really captured the essence of him in the face, but the harshness of the red doesn’t match the softness of his expression,” one person said.

Meanwhile, some royal family watchers found the painting’s contemporary tone refreshing.

“I think this is beautiful and such a break from the traditional portraits,” noted one fan.

“This painting is absolutely SPECTACULAR and so sophisticated and STRONG. Congratulations to the artist,” wrote another.

The portrait, which will hang in London's Drapers' Hall, was commissioned in 2020 to celebrate the then Prince of Wales’s 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company in 2022, Buckingham Palace explained.

“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 explained in a statement.

The artist, who has previously painted the queen consort and the late Duke of Edinburgh, went on to say that he does his best to capture the “life experiences etched into any individual sitter’s face.”

Yeo said his goal 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,” explained the artist, who sat with the king four times to complete the portrait.

Yeo added that he was “unimaginably grateful” for the opportunity to “capture such an extraordinary and unique person, especially at the historic moment of becoming king.”