Who is Jonathan Yeo, King Charles III's portraitist? (2024)

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Aylin Ho

Popular with political figures, the British artist just painted the first official portrait of the King of England since his coronation. The choice of the color red has caused a stir on social media.

Published on May 29, 2024, at 5:00 am (Paris) 2 min read Lire en français

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Who is Jonathan Yeo, King Charles III's portraitist? (1)

The painter of a 'normal' sovereign

The 2.6 x 2-meter canvas shows Charles III dressed in a Welsh Guards uniform (the regiment in which he held the title of colonel until 2022), as bright red as the painting's background. Jonathan Yeo, 53, wanted to break with traditional portraits of monarchs, regardless of whether or not the choice of colors, according to social media, was met with unanimous approval. "I wanted to show the king as a normal person who lives in a fairy tale, a royalty fairy tale," said the London-based painter. The work was started the year before the King took the throne (September 2022). Portraying a monarch even seems to surprise Yeo: "When I was younger, I used to think that I was an avant-garde artist. I would never have painted this kind of traditional stuff – I mean members of the monarchy."

The son of a conservative politician

Yeo is the son of conservative politician Timothy Yeo, who was minister for the environment and countryside between 1993 and 1994. An advocate of "family values," Tim Yeo was forced to resign after an extramarital affair was revealed by the tabloids. As a child, Jonathan Yeo watched politicians parade through his family's living room. "Being around them, I kind of saw them as being a bit more normal than other people would have, you can see their flaws. It was easier to paint them." At the age of 20, his first commission was a portrait of Trevor Huddleston, Anglican archbishop, anti-apartheid activist and a friend of his father. Two years later, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer. While he was unable to make a living from his art, his illness drove him to persevere: "I couldn't die so young without having realized my dream of becoming a painter."

A friend to the stars

Some 15 years later, Yeo has become highly sought-after by the British establishment. He achieved this notoriety at the age of 37 with his 2007 portrait of then-prime minister Tony Blair, followed by portraits of numerous celebrities, from former British prime minister David Cameron (2009) to actress Nicole Kidman (2011) and model Cara Delevingne (2015). A graduate of the film department at the University of Kent, he explained that he mainly learned to draw in high school, penciling in the faces of his teachers. "I chose to paint portraits because, in the beginning, I needed to pay my bills. Since contemporary artists were doing abstract and conceptual art, I had to stand out from them."

The artist behind a viral collage of George W. Bush

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Who is Jonathan Yeo, King Charles III's portraitist? (2024)

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