The Controversy Surrounding The Red King Charles Portrait, Explained

The royal family is well acquainted with controversy, so it's not shocking that King Charles III's newest portrait has sparked an intense, somewhat conspiratorial, response from the internet. Unveiled in mid-May, the humongous portrait, which spans 8ft 6in by 6ft 6in, according to BBC, features the king wearing a red Welsh uniform against a fiery red background. Other notable details of the portrait include Charles holding a sword as a butterfly hovers near his shoulder. According to the artist, Jonathan Yeo, who has painted other public figures, the butterfly's addition was Charles' idea, kind of like a way to honor "the beauty of nature" and highlight "the [King's] environmental causes."

As Yeo detailed to BBC, the sprawling portrait, first commissioned in 2021, took over three years, and four separate visits with the king, to complete. Upon its unveiling, Yeo dug a little deeper into his vision on his website. "As a portrait artist, you get this unique opportunity to spend time with and get to know a subject, so I wanted to minimise the visual distractions and allow people to connect with the human being underneath," wrote Yeo on his website in May 2024. However, the portrait's bold color scheme, which some may agree detracts attention from the king himself, seems to have had the exact opposite effect of what Yeo wanted, stirring up all kinds of spirited, disturbing takes online.

Social media hates King Charles' portrait

King Charles III's new portrait has sparked a wide range of interesting opinions across social media. However, most were caught off guard by the artist's overwhelming use of the color red. "Why in the color 'Red'? Red has meanings associated with shades of danger, violence, anger, malice, and aggression," tweeted one user on X, formerly known as Twitter. Given the monarchy's documented ties to colonialism, however, some people feel the color palette was intentional. "These royalties are so boring. His portrait while swimming in the blood of millions of people Britain has murdered, displaced, enslaved ..." tweeted another.

Unfortunately, those tweets were far from the end of the negative reactions.  "One of the creepiest royal portraits I've ever seen. Horrible!" wrote a user on Instagram. Other users entertained even more sinister theories about the royal portrait, claiming that it signified Charles' spiritual destiny. "Looks like he's going straight to hell," wrote another user. "The King's first official portrait. Are you kidding me. Was he exiting the fires of hell at the time?!" tweeted another user. Meanwhile, others likened the use of red not to fire, but to blood. "It looks like he's bathing in blood," wrote another. "I just see lots of blood ... I hope that's not an omen," tweeted another user.

Other users compared Charles to the antichrist and other harbingers of death. 

How King Charles reacted to the portrait

The internet may not be the biggest fans of King Charles' portrait, but he seems to appreciate Jonathan Yeo's artistic license. During the official unveiling, which took place at Buckingham Palace, Charles eagerly ripped down the sheet to present the piece to the audience. He also exchanged friendly smiles and conversation with Yeo as they stood in front of the assembled crowd. Furthermore, he was also captured on video gleefully analyzing the piece, and seemingly pointing to it with fondness as the cameras rolled. And while he's yet to make an official comment on his thoughts about how Yeo transferred his likeness to the canvas, it seems that he was happy with it.

During Yeo's last in-person session, a few months before the unveiling, Charles was reportedly seemed pleased with the portrait's progression. "He was initially mildly surprised by the strong colour but otherwise he seemed to be smiling approvingly," Yeo shared with BBC. While speaking on the "A Right Royal Podcast," Yeo shared more of the king's reaction. "When I showed it to him back in November, when it was sort of three-quarters done... certainly the face was done, body was sketched and the color was mostly pretty much as it was, in the end," said Yeo (via US Weekly). "If he'd been appalled, I think, I might have rethought it and toned it down a bit. But he didn't seem that way."