A Shock of Red for a Royal Portrait


Category:  Photography & Art

Via:  hallux  •  4 weeks ago  •  17 comments

By:   Vanessa Friedman - NYT

A Shock of Red for a Royal Portrait
A new portrait of King Charles III is bathed in symbolism.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Royal portraits, as a rule, tend to be fairly staid, predictable affairs. Full of symbolism, sure, but generally symbolism of the traditional, establishment kind: symbols of state, of office, of pomp and lineage.

Which is why the   new official portrait   of King Charles III by Jonathan Yeo, the first since the king’s coronation, has created such a controversy.

A larger-than-life (7.5 foot-by-5.5 foot) canvas, the portrait shows the king standing in his Welsh Guards uniform, hands on the hilt of his sword, a half-smile on his face, with a butterfly hovering just over his right shoulder. His entire body is bathed in a sea of crimson, so his face appears to be floating.

Though the butterfly was apparently the key piece of semiology — meant, Mr. Yeo told   the BBC , to represent Charles’s metamorphosis from prince to sovereign and his longstanding love of the environment — it was the painting’s primary color that almost instantaneously gave new meaning to the idea of “seeing red.” It was practically begging for interpretation.

“To me it gives the message the monarchy is going up in flames or the king is burning in hell,” one commentator wrote under the  royal family’s Instagram post  when the portrait was unveiled.

“It looks like he’s bathing in blood,” another wrote. Someone else raised the idea of “colonial bloodshed.” There were comparisons to the devil. And so on. There was even a mention of the   Tampax affair , a reference to an infamous comment by Charles revealed when his phone was hacked during the demise of his marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.

It turns out that red is a trigger color for almost everyone — especially given the somewhat meta endeavor that is royal portraiture: a representation of a representation, made for posterity.

In his interview with the BBC, Mr. Yeo noted that when the king first saw the painting, he was “initially mildly surprised by the strong color,” which may be an understatement. Mr. Yeo said his goal was to produce a more modern royal portrait, reflecting Charles’s desire to be a more modern monarch, reducing the number of working royals and   scaling back   the pageantry of the coronation (all things being relative).

Still, the choice of shade seems particularly fraught given the … well, firestorm the king has endured since his ascension to the throne.

Consider, for example, the continued falling out with his second son, Prince Harry, and the publication of Harry’s memoir, with its   allegations of royal racism ; the related calls for an end to the monarchy;   Charles’s cancer   diagnosis; and the furor over the mystery about   Catherine, Princess of Wales , whose own cancer diagnosis was revealed only after increasingly unhinged speculation about her disappearance from public life.

Queen Camilla, who has been through her own ring of flames, reportedly told the artist, “You’ve got him.”

It’s hard to imagine Mr. Yeo didn’t anticipate some of the reaction to the portrait, especially in the context of his past work, including portraits of Prince Philip, the king’s father, and Queen Camilla, which are more traditional depictions. Indeed, the last time a royal portraitist attempted a more abstract, contemporary interpretation of their subject —   a 1998 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II   by Justin Mortimer, which depicted the queen against a neon yellow background with a splash of yellow bisecting her neck — it produced a similar public outcry.   The Daily Mail   accused the artist of cutting off the queen’s head.

The portrait of King Charles will remain on display at the Philip Mould Gallery until mid-June, when it will move to Drapers’ Hall in London. (It was commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Drapers, a medieval guild turned philanthropy, to reside among hundreds of other, more orthodox royal portraits.)

In that setting, Mr. Yeo’s work may be especially telling: reflective of not just a monarch, but also the evolution of the role itself, the conflicts around the job and a king captured forevermore in what very much looks like the hot seat.


jrDiscussion - desc
PhD Principal
1  seeder  Hallux    4 weeks ago

Everyone's a critic, so have a go.

As to the artist, a separate seed will follow anon ... and here it is:

Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
1.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Hallux @1    4 weeks ago

What a bloody mess. 

PhD Principal
1.1.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @1.1    4 weeks ago

Perhaps to dull eyes.

Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
1.1.2  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Hallux @1.1.1    4 weeks ago
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind dull eyes
And no one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated to telling only lies
But my dreams they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free
No one knows what it's like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you (you, you, you)
No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through

Professor Principal
1.2  Tessylo  replied to  Hallux @1    4 weeks ago

It's kind of disturbing , , ,

PhD Principal
1.2.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Tessylo @1.2    4 weeks ago

Disturbing would have been a portrait done by one of my favorite painters, Francis Bacon.

Professor Principal
1.2.2  Tessylo  replied to  Hallux @1.2.1    4 weeks ago

That's my interpretation I guess you could say - I've never been a fan of red and there is so much of it there

Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
2  Mark in Wyoming     4 weeks ago

I have seen it compared to the picture of Viigo from Ghostbusters 2.

"He's been a bad Veeegi..."

charger 383
Professor Silent
2.1  charger 383  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @2    4 weeks ago

that is what it reminds me of

Professor Expert
3  sandy-2021492    4 weeks ago

I like it, althought I can't put my finger on why, exactly.  Maybe because it's such a departure from the usual stuffy royal portrait.

PhD Principal
3.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  sandy-2021492 @3    4 weeks ago

The same with the Obama's portraitist.

Professor Expert
3.1.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  Hallux @3.1    4 weeks ago

I loved those.

Not the same old dark suits and long gowns with lots of velvet and mahogany in the background.  I mean, there's nothing terribly wrong with those, and they generally represent their subjects well visually.

But this one, and the Obama portraits, seemed to be attempting to represent more than just their physical appearance and positions of power.

Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
4  Drinker of the Wry    4 weeks ago

I don’t remember Obama sitting on the edge of chairs like that.  His hands seem proportionally too large as well.

PhD Principal
4.1  seeder  Hallux  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @4    4 weeks ago
His hands seem proportionally too large as well.

One could say that about your head.

Drinker of the Wry
Junior Expert
4.1.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Hallux @4.1    4 weeks ago

No, I haven’t had a portrait made.

Professor Quiet
5  shona1    4 weeks ago


The devil in disguise came to mind when I saw it here...which in my opinion is rather apt..

Have no time for him or Camilla...they are abit like the Commonwealth games, (poor man's Olympics) now defunct since the Queen has gone..

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
6  Buzz of the Orient    4 weeks ago

I interpret it as meaning that he and his new queen are responsible for the spilling of the blood of the People's Princess.  In this instance, the butterfly symbolizes "transformation", which in this case is from 'innocence' to 'guilt'.  I despise him.  His mother was my Queen and I was honoured by her to be appointed her Counsel, but he is not my monarch and I will never put the letters K.C. after my name. 


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