I see red, I see red, I see red

Most of us will never have to confront an artist’s impression of us, particularly not in the form of an official portrait.

We will never know if an artist could capture our quintessence on canvas, presenting something to the world which we, and those who know and love us, and even those who hate us, would appreciate.

No such luck for the British monarch.

Queen Elizabeth, who sat for many painted portraits and photographs throughout her long reign, did not stick with the staid and stuffy and was open-minded about more modern interpretations.

There was uproar over the Justin Mortimer portrait she sat for in 1997 (the year Diana, Princess of Wales died). Unveiled the following year, it was greeted with a Daily Mail headline declaring the "silly" artist had cut off her head (her head appeared to float above her body).

That work featured a yellow background, described as threatening to overwhelm the figure.

King Charles’ first official portrait, a 2.6 metres by 2 metres work by Jonathan Yeo has the same issue, except this time the colour is red.

The public may still not be ready for such a departure from the traditional portrait style.

The red theme comes from the Welsh Guards uniform the King is wearing, but the clothing fades into the background, making the King’s face more prominent.

The oil on canvas shows King Charles in the uniform of the Welsh Guards and was painted by...
The oil on canvas shows King Charles in the uniform of the Welsh Guards and was painted by celebrated artist Jonathan Yeo. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The painting has been lampooned with some wondering if the King is in the middle of an inferno or if art-defacing climate change activists have already got to it with cans of tomato soup. There have also been suggestions the red relates to the blood spilled by colonialism, and unfortunate references to the years’ old tasteless comments Prince Charles made about tampons.

King Charles might find the fuss over the red portrait less embarrassing than the fact many of his subjects are seeing red over the controversy around the £4.4 million the British Government is forking out to send free photographs of him for display in public buildings.

The scheme has been scaled back from an initial estimate of £8.2 million for the A3 photos which have been offered free of charge to councils, courts, schools, police forces, fire and rescue services and cadet services. This has now been extended to any Church of England church, job centre, university or hospital which wants one.

This has not gone down well with cash-strapped and stressed public services or denominations other than the Church of England who question why they have missed out on the freebie.

Regardless of how King Charles might feel about the Yeo painting, it is too late for him to quietly shelve it in a forgotten cupboard somewhere and ensure it is never seen again. That happened after the unveiling of an 80th birthday portrait of Winston Churchill which was later destroyed on the instruction of his widow.

The Dunedin mayoral painted portraits have not always been well received either. Sukhi Turner was reported to have labelled her portrait "ugly" and it was replaced with a photograph.

Councillors decided last year photographs would be used to commemorate Dunedin mayors in future, although not all favoured the move.

Across the Ditch, Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart is understood not to be happy with her unflattering portrayal by Vincent Namatjira, one of 21 paintings in his Australia in Colour series on display at the National Gallery of Australia. Queen Elizabeth and King Charles also feature in the line-up, and they do not look glamorous either.

As the artist says, he paints the world as he sees it. People did not have to like his paintings but he hoped they took the time to wonder why "this Aboriginal bloke" had painted these powerful people. Quite.