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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Smith

The Emperor's New Portrait

King Charles III’s first official royal portrait was unveiled last week, to decidedly mixed reviews.

The painting [Picture 1] measures roughly 8.5ft by 6.5ft and was created by Jonathan Yeo, an artist known for his emotive style. Yeo is passionate about using his paintings to reveal more about his sitters, having painted other influential figures, such as Sir David Attenborough, Malala Yousafzai, Brian Cox and Cara Delevingne.

In the portrait, Charles III dons the uniform of the Welsh Guards, almost blending into the expressive background of reds, pinks and yellows. He faces directly out of the painting – this allows the viewer to form a relationship with him. Unlike other royal portraits, where the monarchs appear otherworldly and imbued with vast power, Charles III’s portrait feels personal and sincere. The artist says the main issue for him wasn’t creating an accurate depiction, as he had grown up knowing what the King looked like, but more “show[ing] and trying to slightly channel who he seems to be now." 

However, there has been a great deal of backlash towards the painting, with some claiming it looks like “Camilla’s Tampon”, Others connotate the striking red background to the colour of blood, reflecting the country’s – and the monarchy’s - history with colonialism.


Others have also pointed out that, when flipped, the painting reveals an image of the Devil with goat’s horns sitting cross legged [Image 2]. Internet users have formed conspiracies around the piece, with some wondering if this was a deliberate choice by Yeo or something found by more condescending viewers in order to attack the monarchy.

The piece has also been vandalised, concerningly soon after its hanging in the Philip Mould gallery. Two activists from Animal Rising plastered Wallace from Wallace and Gromit over the king’s face in order to protest cruelty on RSPCA-assured farms [Picture 3]. This adds to the growing controversy surrounding the painting and reflects the historical tradition of historic paintings being destroyed or damaged in political protests.

To summarise, whilst the portrait may be aesthetically pleasing, and have strong symbolic links to Charles III and his aims, the portrait is seen by many as a symbol of oppression and a method of achieving publicity for social issues.

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