A philosophical attitude to human nature first emerges in Francis Bacon’s works of the 1940s. They reflect his belief that, without God, humans are subject to the same natural urges of violence, lust and fear as any other animal. Bacon showed Figure in a Landscape and Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (on display in Room 4) in April 1945, and exhibited consistently thereafter. The bestial depiction of the human figure was combined with specific references to recent history and especially the devastating events of the Second World War.

Francis Bacon Head I 1947-8

Francis Bacon, Head I 1947-8 
Oil and tempera
1003 x 749 mm
© The Estate of Francis Bacon/DACS 2008
Photo: © 2008 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bacon often drew his inspiration from reproductions, acquiring a large collection of books, catalogues and magazines. He repeatedly studied key images in order to probe beneath the surface appearance captured in photographs.

Early concerns that would persist throughout his work include the male nude, which reveals the frailty of the human figure, and the scream or cry that expresses repressed and violent anxieties. These works are among the first in which he sought to balance psychological insights with the physical identity of flesh and paint.