King Charles’ First Official Portrait Post-Coronation Is Actually Loaded with Symbolism and Meaning

As ever with any royal portrait, opinions about this latest one were mixed.

King Charles
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A little bit of history was made today: King Charles has unveiled his first official portrait since his Coronation one year ago this month; as with any art—especially portraits—reactions are mixed, but more on that in a moment.

Let’s get to the facts first before we wade into the murky waters of public opinion. The portrait—which People calls “intense” and “fiery”—was done by Jonathan Yeo and unveiled at Buckingham Palace today. It was commissioned in 2020 to commemorate the King—who was then Prince Charles—marking 50 years as a member of The Draper’s Company in 2022, and features Charles in the uniform of the Welsh Guards, which he was made Regimental Colonel of in 1975. (The appointment has since passed to his eldest son and current Prince of Wales, Prince William.) 

King Charles

A new portrait was released today of the King, the first unveiled since his Coronation a year ago.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The painting came to be after four sittings, People reports, which began in June 2021 at Highgrove House and concluded in November 2023 with a session at Clarence House. From the first sitting to the last, much happened in the royal family, certainly not the least of which was the death of Charles’ beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth, in September 2022, his accession to throne, and his Coronation on May 6, 2023 at Westminster Abbey. In between sittings, Yeo also worked from drawings and photography he took of Charles in his London studio.

In addition to the King, Yeo, one of the world’s leading portrait artists, has also depicted Tony Blair, David Cameron, Malala Yousafzai, Sir David Attenborough, and Charles’ father, Prince Philip, and wife, Queen Camilla.

Queen Camilla and Jonathan Yeo

Yeo chatting with Camilla today, whom he painted back in 2014.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of the portrait, Camilla herself said “Yes, you’ve got him,” according to the BBC, which is high praise from someone who knows him well. The piece measures about 8 ½ by 6 ½ feet, framed, “to fit in with the architecture of Drapers’ Hall, the hub of the historic guild,” People writes.

Of the opportunity, Yeo said that “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,” he said in a statement. “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.”

King Charles

Yeo has painted members of the royal family, dignitaries, and celebrities over the course of his career.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Yeo continued “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.”

The portrait will be displayed to the public from May 16 to June 14 at Philip Mould Gallery in London, free of charge. Afterwards, it will move to Drapers’ Hall for display until the end of August.

While at the unveiling today, Yeo again spoke of the butterfly on the portrait echoing the Charles’ “metamorphosis” from Prince to King during the four-year process—”and the monarch joked that it was nice to know he was a chrysalis,” The Daily Mail reports. 

King Charles

Yeo, seen here having a laugh with the King, revealed it was actually Charles' idea to include the butterfly detail in the portrait.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Per The Independent, Yeo said it was actually the King’s idea to include the butterfly, an idea generated after Yeo asked him “When schoolchildren are looking at this in 200 years and they’re looking at the who’s who of the monarchs, what clues can you give them?” to which the monarch replied “What about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?”

Royal portraits in particular are met with mixed reactions from the public, who are quick to dismiss the effort and time put into a project, as well as the creativity required to make such a project come to pass. “People often say, ‘Is there a secret to doing a good portrait?’” Yeo said. “And I say, ‘I don’t know, really.’ Actually, I think there is one, and that’s having an interesting subject to start with. And you couldn’t ask for a better one than this, other than Her Majesty,” as he gestured towards Camilla, whom Yeo painted in 2014, a decade ago.

Queen Camilla portrait

Yeo's portrait of Queen Camilla from 2014.

(Image credit: Jonathan Yeo)

Before the unveiling, Yeo said he wasn’t sure if Charles had seen the completed portrait yet, but knew he had seen it in its “half-done state,” and added that he was, admittedly, nervous about painting the King, joking “If this was seen as treasonous, I could literally pay for it with my head, which would be an appropriate way for a portrait painter to die—to have their head removed!” 

King Charles

Thankfully, the King approved of Yeo's work. No execution for treason necessary.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The King and Queen seemed to approve, but, as ever, social media commenters had thoughts—ranging from reactions about the bold red color of the portrait (one word: Tampongate) to drawing comparisons to a villain from Ghostbusters 2.

Of the King’s reaction upon seeing it, Yeo said “He was initially mildly surprised by the strong color, but otherwise he seemed to be smiling approvingly,” he said.

And after all, that’s the only opinion that really matters here.

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.