Sir David Attenborough portrait by artist Jonathan Yeo unveiled by the Royal Society

25 June 2024

A portrait of Sir David Attenborough by world renowned artist Jonathan Yeo has been unveiled today, marking 40 years of Sir David’s fellowship to the Royal Society.

The new portrait celebrates Sir David’s brilliant career in public engagement and the fundamental role he continues to play in educating audiences everywhere on climate change and biodiversity.

The portrait was unveiled by Sir David Attenborough and Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, at a private event held earlier today at the Royal Society.

It was then exclusively unveiled to the nation live on BBC’s The One Show in a studio interview with Jonathan Yeo.

The portrait can be viewed by the public at our Summer Science Exhibition. The Exhibition is free to attend and will open with an adults-only Lates event on Tuesday 2 July at 6pm. The exhibition will open its doors to all ages from 10am on Wednesday 3 July to Sunday 7 July 2024.

Portrait of Sir David Attenborough against a green background, painted by Jonathan Yeo

Sir David Attenborough OM GCMG CH FRS said: “It was a tremendous honour to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society over 40 years ago and that my portrait has now been painted by such a master as Jonathan Yeo for the Society’s extensive and important collection is extraordinary indeed.

“To spend so much of my life looking at the natural world and attempting to convey to others its amazing complexity, beauty and increasingly its fragility has been a great privilege. It has only been possible thanks to the extraordinary natural history film makers and the many dedicated scientists who have willingly shared their work with us.”

Sir David Attenborough was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1983 for his services to science as a pioneer of public engagement. He was chair of the Royal Society’s first ever Science Book Prize in 1988 and he was also awarded the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize and Lecture in 2004 for his dedication to communicating the sense of wonder that drives scientific research.

The portrait joins the Royal Society’s historic collection of original portraits – including the likes of Charles Darwin, Gideon Mantell, Dorothy Hodgkin, and the society’s most recent commission, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Portrait artist Jonathan Yeo said: “It’s hard to imagine a public figure who has done more to engage and inspire all generations in the wonders of the natural world than Sir David. At a time when too many global leaders are failing to engage seriously in tackling threats to our climate and natural world, Sir David’s lifetime of work in communicating and sharing its wonders and importance has been a service to all humanity.

“Sir David has long been a personal inspiration, and so it was a huge honour to be asked to paint his portrait for the Royal Society. It has been a thrill as well as a privilege to spend so much time with someone whose wisdom is so deep and broad, and who is also such brilliant and entertaining company.”

The oil painting by Jonathan Yeo, whose most recent work was the first official portrait of HM King Charles III, shows Sir David seated against a green background. He looks directly at the viewer, with his hands clasped around his knee as if engaged in conversation.

Yeo said: “As with any portrait, I primarily focus on the subject’s face and body language to try and convey their personality and the impression I get from being in a room with them. In the case of Sir David, I also chose to combine this with an ambiguous natural green background, as if he might be emerging from one of the many habitats he has captured on film during his career.”

Head of Library and Archives at the Royal Society, Keith Moore, said: "We’re thrilled to have this portrait of Sir David as part of our collections. The Royal Society has many pictures of great scientists – over 300 original works of art and around 10,000 engravings and photographs. 

“You can find so many individuals from the scientific community of past centuries here: from Isaac Newton to Charles Darwin, and from Albert Einstein to Dorothy Hodgkin. But I’d defy you to find anyone who has touched as many people’s lives in explaining the ideas behind great science, and how they affect our world, as Sir David Attenborough. He’s one of a kind.”