King Charles' first official portrait targeted by animal rights activists

11 June 2024, 12:49 | Updated: 11 June 2024, 16:55

Animal rights activists have targeted a portrait of the King, pasting over his face with a picture of the animated character Wallace.

A speech bubble, reading, "No cheese Gromit. Look at all this cruelty on RSPCA farms," was also put onto the painting at the Philip Mould gallery in central London.

It was the first official portrait of the King, by artist Jonathan Yeo, since the coronation, which was unveiled at Buckingham Palace last month.

Animal Rising said two of its supporters were responsible for the stunt, saying the artwork was targeted because of the King's love of the British stop-motion Wallace and Gromit comedy franchise created by Nick Park and his status as Royal Patron of the RSPCA.

The Queen once revealed that inventor Wallace and his dog Gromit, the stars of hit Aardman films including The Wrong Trousers and A Grand Day Out, were her husband's "favourite people in the world".

In a post on the group's website Daniel Juniper, one of those involved, said they wanted to draw his attention to alleged cruelty reported on RSPCA-assured farms.

"Even though we hope this is amusing to His Majesty, we also call on him to seriously reconsider if he wants to be associated with the awful suffering across farms being endorsed by the RSPCA," he said.

"Charles has made it clear he is sensitive to the suffering of animals in UK farms; now is the perfect time for him to step up and call on the RSPCA to drop the assured scheme and tell the truth about animal farming."

A video posted on social media site X shows two protesters approaching the painting before attaching the posters using paint rollers, then walking away.

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'I wasn't surprised'

Gallery owner Philip Mould said staff had anticipated the painting may be targeted by protesters and is "safely secured in its frame with protective layers".

"I wasn't hugely surprised," he said. "The attack on the picture was not actually of a serious nature. The perpetrators put water on the surface very quickly in a swift manoeuvre and then they added stickers to that.

"No damage was done. The stickers only remained up for about 10 or 15 seconds, and then were taken down by my gallery staff.

"I asked the individuals to leave and they did."

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: "In response to footage circulating on social media, officers attended a central London gallery to carry out enquiries. Police had not been called to the incident.

"Staff at the venue were spoken to. They confirmed no damage had been done to either the painting or the glass that covered it. The protesters were asked by staff to leave following the incident, which they did.

"The gallery did not wish to report a crime and as such there is no further action by police."

Animal Rising - which said the posters were affixed using water sprayed on to the back, so they could be easily removed - is calling for the King to suspend his support for the RSPCA until the charity drops its ethical food labelling scheme.

Spokesperson Orla Coghlan said: "Just as Feathers McGraw fooled Wallace into a bank heist, the RSPCA has been fooling the British public into thinking their factory farms are - in any way - an acceptable place for animals to live. It's clear from the scenes across 45 RSPCA-assured farms that there's no kind way to farm animals."

The report, released by Animal Rising on Sunday, contains findings from investigations on 45 farms across the UK featuring chickens, pigs, salmon and trout.

An RSPCA spokesperson said the charity has launched "an immediate, urgent investigation" after receiving the footage on Sunday but was "shocked by this vandalism".

"We welcome scrutiny of our work, but we cannot condone illegal activity of any kind," they said, adding the group's "sustained activity is distracting from our focus on the work that really matters - helping thousands of animals every day".

The spokesperson said the charity remains "confident" the RSPCA-assured scheme "is the best way to help farmed animals right now, while campaigning to change their lives in the future".

"We have responded openly and transparently to Animal Rising's challenges to our farming work," they said.

"While we understand that Animal Rising, like us, want the best for animals, their activity is a distraction and a challenge to the work we are all doing to create a better world for every animal."

Buckingham Palace declined to comment.

The portrait shows the King wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards, which he was made regimental colonel of in 1975, and was originally commissioned in 2020 to mark his 50 years as a member of The Draper's Company in 2022.

He sat for Mr Yeo on four occasions between June 2021 and November 2023 at both Highgrove in Gloucestershire and Clarence House in London.

The renowned portrait artist's past subjects include Idris Elba, Cara Delevingne, Sir David Attenborough, Nicole Kidman, Malala Yousafzai, and former prime ministers Lord David Cameron and Sir Tony Blair.

Climate activists smeared the Madame Tussauds waxwork of the King with chocolate cake in October 2022, while artworks including the Mona Lisa in the Louvre have been targeted by protesters.

Activists threw soup at the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece in January, while members of the Just Stop Oil group used the same tactic on Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers at London's National Gallery in October 2022.

In the following month, campaigners glued themselves to Goya paintings in Madrid's Prado museum.