Vandalised: King Charles’ Red Portrait by Jonathan Yeo


Jonathan Yeo’s ‘red’ portrait of King Charles III was vandalised during a protest by animal rights activists at the Philip Mould Gallery in the west end of London. The protesters replaced the King’s face with Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, adding a speech bubble that read, “No cheese, Gromit. Look at all this cruelty on RSPCA farms!”

This visual statement draws attention to the alleged mistreatment of animals on RSPCA Assured farms. Daniel Juniper, one of the campaigners, explained the rationale behind the act. “Given King Charles’s fondness for ‘Wallace and Gromit,’ we saw this as a fitting way to highlight the severe conditions on RSPCA Assured farms,” Juniper said. “While we hope His Majesty finds this humorous, we urge him to seriously reconsider his association with the RSPCA’s Assured scheme, which endorses farms where animals suffer.”

Animal Rising, known for its non-violent and community-driven approach, seeks to foster a sustainable future and a harmonious relationship between humans, animals, and nature. Juniper emphasized the urgency of their message. “Charles has shown sensitivity to animal suffering on UK farms. Now is the time for him to act, urging the RSPCA to abandon the Assured scheme and reveal the harsh realities of animal farming.”

Animal Rising Protest Over Cruelty At RSPCA Farms
Animal Rising Protest Over Cruelty At RSPCA Farms Photo: courtesy Animal Rising

The modified portrait, prominently displayed in St. James’s, vividly and thought-provokingly reminds us of the ongoing discourse on animal welfare and the crucial role of public figures in championing humane practices.

As it has become known, the’ Red’ portrait was unveiled at Buckingham Palace and marked the first officially painted portrait of King Charles III since his coronation. The oil on canvas, which measures 8ft 6in by 6ft 6in, showcases the King in the striking uniform of the Welsh Guards. Jonathan Yeo, the artist behind this artwork, is renowned for his portraits of influential figures such as Tony Blair, Sir David Attenborough, and other celebrities, Royals and political figures.

Upon viewing the painting, Queen Camilla, with a touch of humour, remarked to Yeo, “Yes, you’ve captured him.” In this vivid portrait, King Charles is depicted holding a sword with a butterfly perched on his shoulder, adding a unique and personal touch to the image. Yeo, in his characteristic wit, noted the pressure of painting a monarch, saying, “If this was seen as treasonous, I could pay for it with my head, which would be an appropriate way for a portrait painter to die – to have their head removed!” Fortunately, modern times do not call for such drastic measures.

Photo Courtesy Philip Mould Gallery
King Charles III – Jonathan Yeo – Photo Courtesy Philip Mould Gallery

The portrait has already received approval from key royal figures. Queen Camilla’s endorsement during the final sitting affirmed Yeo’s skill in capturing the King’s likeness. Yeo noted that the King had seen the portrait incompletely and seemed to approve with a smile despite being initially surprised by the bold colours.

Yeo aimed for the painting to be a distinctive and modern take on royal portraiture, blending traditional elements like the military outfit and sword with contemporary touches such as the vibrant red background and the butterfly. “My interest is in figuring out who someone is and trying to get that on a canvas,” Yeo explained.

The butterfly in the portrait is mainly symbolic, representing metamorphosis and rebirth – fitting themes for a monarch who recently ascended to the throne. It also nods to King Charles’ long-standing environmental advocacy, a cause he championed well before it became mainstream. Yeo shared that including the butterfly was Charles’ idea, inspired by a conversation about adding storytelling elements to the portrait. “I said 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? He said, ‘What about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?'”

Yeo began this portrait when Charles was still the Prince of Wales, with the first sitting at Highgrove in June 2021. This painting, now marred by protest, remains a target because of its high profile.

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