1940s

I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime.

- Francis Bacon

Bacon’s bold vision emerged in the final years of World War II in a Britain shattered by profound violence and destruction. Only a few of his paintings from the 1930s and early 1940s survive, the artist having destroyed many of his works during this period.

Bacon was excused from active military service due to asthma, but he worked for a time in Civil Defence. This too was curtailed because of the dust caused by the constant bombing and demolition in London. With his lover, the collector and businessman Eric Hall, he moved to a cottage in Hampshire.

Much of Bacon’s work from the 1940s relates to his crucifixion series. The scream – drawn from a range of sources including the screaming nurse in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin – recurs in many of his paintings. Bacon’s screaming figures crouch beneath umbrellas or are enclosed in cage-like structures.

A series of paintings of heads from this period blur the boundaries between human and animal. And at the close of the decade Bacon began painting the male nude, a move towards the eroticism and surprising tenderness that characterised some of his later works.