Kevin Spacey depicted as rakish Richard III in new Jonathan Yeo exhibition

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Richard III has dominated the headlines since his remains were located under a Leicester car park. Now the British king, as depicted by Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, is to hit the spotlight once again in a major exhibition of portraits by Jonathan Yeo at the National Portrait Gallery.

Spacey, who is artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London, was painted in costume as Shakespeare’s notorious king during Sam Mendes’ 2011 production, for which the actor won rave reviews.

British artist Yeo, 41, saw him play the role both with and without an audience, sketched and took photos of him working backstage, before producing the large painting, which is believed to be the actor’s first portrait from life. It shows him peering directly out at the onlooker and wearing his crown at a rakish tilt.

“We decided to put him in character as Shakespeare's notorious villain, partly as a nod to the tradition of theatrical portraits of the past, and partly as a celebration of what may go down as his most memorable stage role,” Yeo said.

“The main dilemma with painting a great actor in a role is knowing how much you are portraying the man and how much the character he is playing. In the end I tried to leave it to the viewer to decide for themselves. It’s been Richard III’s year, from being unearthed in a Leicester Council car park to being on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Not a bad showing for someone who's been dead for six centuries!”

The exhibition will also include a portrait of actress Sienna Miller. However, it won't be the nude portrait of Miller painted when she was eight months pregnant which attracted attention when it was first unveiled last November. The actress, 30, who gave birth to her daughter in July 2012, sat Yeo numerous times and a series of paintings of her is due to be exhibited later this year.

Yeo is well known for his ironic portraits of political figures, including Tony Blair wearing a poppy and a collage George Bush made from pornographic magazines.

His Portraits exhibition at the NPG will also include some of today’s leading cultural, media and political figures including Rupert Murdoch, model Erin O’Connor, artist Grayson Perry.

The exhibition will present an overview of the artist’s work to date - beginning with the drawings he made of the party leaders on the 2001 campaign trail - and will also include private studies of his family.

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