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Portrait of the King as a Young Artist

16 June 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

It is unusual for art lovers to be granted a glimpe of an artist’s earliest work, so imagine our delight at seeing the juvenilia of King Charles III come up for sale at Hansons Auctioneers’ Bloomsday Library Auction. Not only are there drawings of his mother, the late Queen, in quite splendid regalia, but his love of nature is also in evidence: drawings of birds (carmine bee-eaters and an owl) and rabbits suggest a surprisingly attentive gaze. The racing boat drawn during Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight alludes not only to a quaint mode of holidaying but also a rather serious, classically-inclined eye.

children's drawing of an owl

An illustration of an owl (c. 1953–55), HM King Charles III. Hansons (£2,000–£3,000). Photo: Emma Errington

This should, perhaps, be no surprise: the Royal Family is replete with artists. Queen Victoria’s love of watercolour- painting is well-known, while her etchings of Prince Albert’s greyhound Eos show that she, too, had a keen eye for nature. Eos was also depicted several times by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802–73), not least in a rather stunning oil of 1841 – less Monarch of the Glen, more monarch’s best friend.

The King’s father was similarly interested in painting. Not only did Prince Philip design windows for the Private Chapel at Windsor, but he also painted scenes from Scotland, including Duart Castle on the Sound of Mull. The artist Jonathan Yeo remembers that, while painting the late Duke of Edinburgh’s portrait, the Duke asked him multiple questions about technique and the materials he was using. When the moment Yeo had been dreading came – for Prince Philip to show the artist his work – Yeo was in fact quietly impressed, declaring them ‘rather subtle and slightly Romantic’. Perhaps the Royal family should consider changing its mission: from king of our hearts, to king of our arts?

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