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In the early 1930s Bacon began to concentrate on painting, and works of this period channelled Picasso and Surrealism. Furthermore, Bacon’s colour schemes and subject matter were closely interdependent with those of his early mentor, Roy de Maistre. Bacon met the Australian artist in 1930 and, as a self-taught painter, he benefitted greatly from his more experienced colleague’s technical advice. Yet Bacon was struggling to develop an original approach. Despite producing individual masterpieces, according to David Sylvester ‘there was not much consistency in what he did, in style or in quality, until the 1940s.’

Bacon’s Crucifixion, 1933, attracted attention in the London art scene. Displayed in an exhibition at the Mayor Gallery that coincided with Herbert Read’s book Art Now, it triggered a subsequent commission. The initial success was not to last however. An exhibition organised by Bacon himself in a basement in Sunderland House in 1934 received negative reviews and in 1936 his work was rejected from the International Surrealist Exhibition in London on the grounds of not being ‘sufficiently surreal.’ After the group show Young British Painters at Thomas Agnew & Sons in 1937, the disappointed artist virtually abandoned painting, and no works produced between 1937 and 1943 survive today. On his own account, Bacon preferred to ‘enjoy himself’ and spent the last years before the war gambling and travelling with his partner and patron Eric Hall.