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King Charles’ First Official Portrait Has Been Released: Everything You Need to Know About the Painting 

The monarch’s portrait is full of symbols, imagery, and Commonwealth hints

King Charles III was on hand at Buckingham Palace to unveil his first official portrait on May 14. The painting – the first of the king released since his May 2023 coronation – was revealed to the public via the family’s X (formerly known as Twitter) account, their post including a video of King Charles pulling the black covering away from the frame. The portrait’s striking red hue and modern interpretation sparked conversation among royal watchers, with one writing on X that they would have “never guessed that to be King Charles.”

Another critic chimed in, saying the portrait had “an intensely ominous vibe to it,” while fans called it “outstanding” and an “excellent” display.

Read on to find out more about the portrait and its symbolism, the artist, and more. 

King Charles’ first official portrait’s meaning and Commonwealth hints

The first official portrait of King Charles measures 8’6’’ by 6’6’’, and every inch of the canvas conveys meaning and hints about the Commonwealth and the monarchy. Perhaps the most striking component of the painting is the clothing King Charles is wearing – the choice to capture the monarch in the bright red uniform of the Welsh Guards is a nod to his decades-long work as the Prince of Wales and his British heritage. 

Including his figure from the mid-leg up, the portrait shows King Charles with his hands comfortably sitting atop a Wealth Guard sword, often considered a symbol of British military excellence. The monarch’s collection of medals is also featured across his torso, including those he has been bestowed as a high-ranking member of such orders as the Order of the Garter, the Order of Merit, and the Order of the Thistle. 

Only a single additional subject is included in King Charles’ portrait: a small monarch butterfly, hovering above his right shoulder. Believed to be named by King William III of England, the monarch is symbolic of Charles’ reign as well as his dedication to environmental causes, as the species of butterfly is one of the most impacted by climate change. 

Unlike previous royal portraits that capture subjects in classic illustrations, King Charles’ likeness and Welsh red uniform bleeds into the canvas, an intentional artistic choice by the painter, British artist Jonathan Yeo. 

“As a portrait artist, you get this unique opportunity to spend time with and get to know a subject, so I wanted to minimize the visual distractions and allow people to connect with the human being underneath,” Yeo explained on his website of his symbolic artistic choice. 

Learn more about the artist who painted King Charles’ official portrait 

Yeo, the artist behind King Charles’ first official painting as monarch, is known for his portraiture work capturing the royal family. Painting the late Duke of Edinburgh in 2008 and Queen Camilla in 2014, Yeo approached King Charles’ portrait with an open mind, allowing the project to change alongside the royal. In total, the king sat with Yeo four times in hour-long sessions. 

“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 said amid the portrait’s unveiling. “I do my best to capture the life experiences and humanity etched into any individual sitter’s face, and I hope that is what I have achieved in this portrait,” he continued. “To try and capture that for His Majesty The King, who occupies such a unique role, was both a tremendous professional challenge, and one which I thoroughly enjoyed and am immensely grateful for.”

Additional subjects of Yeo’s portraiture work have ranged from actresses like Nicole Kidman and Kristin Scott Thomas to British politicians such as Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy. Yeo is the son of former British political figure Tim Yeo, and lives in London with his wife and two daughters. 

Related: Prince William Through the Years: His Royal Life, Fatherhood and More

King Charles’ official portrait will be on display 

Royal watchers and fans of King Charles will be able to view his official portrait at Drapers’ Hall in London. The painting was commissioned by the Drapers’ Company, a livery company in the City of London, and will be displayed among other works depicting royal family members. 


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