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Meet Jonathan Yeo, The Artist Behind King Charles III’s First Official Portrait — PrestigeOnline Hong Kong

Meet Jonathan Yeo, The Artist Behind King Charles III’s First Official Portrait — PrestigeOnline Hong Kong

English tradition dictates that every newly anointed monarch be represented in an official portrait for posterity, a practice that dates back to the Tudor period in the 15th century. Since then, almost every head of state succeeding Henry VII has had his or her visage depicted on canvas, with King Charles III being the latest to join this storied legacy with his first Royal portrait under the hands of celebrated portraitist Jonathan Yeo.

Unveiled during a ceremony held earlier yesterday at Buckingham Palace, His Majesty’s first official portrait since ascending to the throne in September of 2022 has since garnered divisive reactions over social media. Some applauded its bold, unapologetically contemporary stylings, while others derided its overt use of garish red, making allusions to the King’s controversial Tampongate scandal with Queen Camilla in the 1990s.

King Charles III unveils his very first Royal portrait as monarch by Jonathan Yeo

The eldest son of the late Queen Elizabeth II was depicted with an authoritative stance, dressed in a ceremonial Welsh Guard uniform as he gazes over onlookers. While his likeness is accurately delineated, the same can’t be said of his attire, which appears to blend into scarlet hues of varying intensities and lends a borderline eerie air around the portrait. This is only further exacerbated by passionate brushstrokes that are characteristic of Yeo’s pieces, blending lines into a hazy, dreamlike reverie.

But those who know Jonathan Yeo aren’t likely to be surprised, given how controversy typically serves as an intrinsic facet of his works. The son of Conservative British politician Tim Yeo, the 53-year-old is a self-taught artist who first learned the trade while recovering from a bout of Hodgkin’s Disease.

It wouldn’t be long before his unconventional choice of mediums and techniques in contemporary portraiture caught the attention of London’s art scene. This was followed by a slew of notable commissions featuring members of Hollywood elite, including British actor Jude Law, British actress Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, and Australian actress Nicole Kidman, to name just a few.

More politically charged works debuted after the turn of the new millennium such as his 2001 triptych, Proportional Representation, which illustrated then-Prime Minister Tony Blair alongside British politicians William Hague and Charles Kennedy, on canvasses of differing sizes that were proportionate to their popularity among the general public. Tony Blair served as the subject for yet another notable portrait in 2008, which was critically received for its depiction of the Labour Party leader noticeably weathered from his government’s involvement in the Iraqi war.

But it was his unofficial portrait of former American President George W Bush that minted Yeo’s reputation as one of the foremost names from his generation. Comprised of cuttings from pornographic magazines, the collage was completed and exhibited without approval from Bush’s administration, which had initially commissioned the artwork but withdrew its request later on.

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More such collage pieces assembled using pornographic material followed, including portraits of esteemed golfer Tiger Woods and conservative American politician Sarah Palin.

As for King Charles III’s first royal portrait, Yeo explains that the 6-foot tall artwork was painted over three years when it was first commissioned in 2020. Speaking on the elements depicted in the painting, he said “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.”

Adding to this, he describes the portrait as a means of evoking the practice of Royal portraiture, but in a manner that reflects a modern, contemporary monarchy that doesn’t eschew ‘the subject’s deep humanity’. “I am unimaginably grateful for the opportunity to capture such an extraordinary and unique person, especially at the historic moment of becoming King.” The portrait is set to be displayed at London’s Drapers Hall.

Feature and hero image credits: Buckingham Palace

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur

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