16 May 2024

Too much artist, too little Charles, says Wellington portrait artist

1:01 pm on 16 May 2024
Britain's King Charles III (R) reacts as he stands alongside artist Jonathan Yeo, after unveiling an official portrait of himself wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards, of which he was made Regimental Colonel in 1975, by artist Yeo, in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in London on May 14, 2024. The official portrait was commissioned in 2020 to celebrate the then Prince of Wales's 50 years as a member of The Drapers' Company in 2022. Artist Jonathan Yeo had four sittings with the King Charles III, beginning when he was Prince of Wales in June 2021 at Highgrove, and later at Clarence House. The last sitting took place in November 2023 at Clarence House. Yeo also worked from drawings and photography he took, allowing him to work on the portrait in his London studio between sittings. The canvas size - approximately 8.5 by 6.5 feet when framed - was carefully considered to fit within the architecture of Drapers' Hall and the context of the paintings it will eventually hang alongside. (Photo by...

Britain's King Charles III (R) reacts as he stands alongside artist Jonathan Yeo, after unveiling an official portrait of himself wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards. Photo: AFP / Aaron Chown

Too much artist and not enough subject, is the verdict on the official portrait of King Charles III by Wellington artist Tatyana Kulida.

The first official painted portrait of King Charles III since his coronation was unveiled at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday.

There has been a mixed reaction to the artwork which stands six feet high, a modern oil on canvas by artist Jonathan Yeo.

The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones said it was a "masterpiece of shallowness by an artist so ludicrously upbeat he should be called Jonathan Yo!"

Yeo has previously painted portraits of Tony Blair, David Attenborough, Prince Philip and Queen Camilla.

Kulida has painted former prime minister Sir Bill English and primatologist Dame Jane Goodall, and isn't entirely convinced by the portrait either, she told Nights.

"It's larger than life in every sense of the word. It's red, with the red colour coming forward a lot and his face getting lost, his face it's actually larger than life-size. So, there's a certain exaggeration happening," Kulida said.

Artist Yeo has a distinctive bold style, she said.

"I think that was part of the artist's intention to make a statement and to be modern. In my opinion, when you're trying to do portraiture, the subject is far more important than your creative expression. So that's where I get a bit puzzled."

Meticulous planning was involved when she embarked on a portrait, she said.

"When I painted Dame Goodall, for example, I had to hire a body double and get everything worked out so that I could just place her in the setting."

Then it was a question of capturing the subject's essence, she said.

"What I'm trying to do is capture the person as faithfully as possible and just be available and present for who they are."

The point of a portrait was to create an experience for the viewer, she said.

"It's really about conveying the presence of the person. I want to create an experience of that person being felt for the viewer. So, it's really quite different from photography, or any ways of making a face recognisable. A portrait is an experience within itself."

And it was a vulnerable exercise both for the sitter and the artists, Kulida said.

"Obviously as an artist you have to bring your A game and as the sitter you are risking to be seen as you truly are."

Painting well-known people, she said, required a little digging, .

"I'm certainly looking to find something that goes deeper than the surface image. I'm very much interested in the person. And I think a good artist is a lot more interested to discover something and reveal something that's very authentic about the sitter, rather than just simply echoing what the rhetoric may be."

So, does Kulida believe artist Yeo manage this with Charles?

"I think there's just a bit too much artist, and too little sitter."