King Charles' first official portrait breaks royal tradition

The first official royal portrait of King Charles has been revealed, and it's not what many royalists were expecting.

The oil painting, painted by Jonathan Yeo, an artist chosen by the current monarch, and displayed at Buckingham Palace on May 14, depicts King Charles in the uniform of the Welsh Guards.

The painting breaks with previous tradition of more realistic royal portraits, with all but the king's face covered in bright red. The painting also depicts Charles with a butterfly on his shoulder as he holds his sword.

While Young adhered to some royal portrait traditions, including military uniforms, he wanted to create "something different" by making the images more personal. “My interest is really in figuring out who someone is and trying to represent that on canvas,” he explains, revealing that the inclusion of butterflies holds special significance.

"In art history, butterflies symbolize transformation and rebirth," Yeo added at the unveiling, referring to Charles' transition from prince to king following the death of his mother, Elizabeth II, in 2022.

Butterfly also noted the monarch's well-documented interest in environmental issues, which he has "advocated for most of his life, certainly long before they became mainstream topics," Young continued.

Artists Jonathan Young and Charles King. WPA Pool/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The artist, who has also painted former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Malala Yousafzai, revealed it was the king's idea to include the butterflies.

Yeo continued, "I said, 'When schoolchildren look at what it will be like 200 years from now, and the who's who of monarchs, what clues can you give them?'" He said, 'How about a butterfly landing on my shoulder?' '"

Queen's approval

Young first began working on the portrait in June 2021 at Highgrove, the royal residence in Gloucestershire, England, where the King first took office. He went on to perform four more portrait sit-ins, each lasting about an hour.

Charles was "somewhat surprised at first" by the painting after first seeing it in its "unfinished state". The last meeting was held at Clarence House in November 2023 and was attended by the King's wife, Queen Camilla, who recognized Young's work. "Yes, you found him," she reportedly said of the royal portrait.