Amid the fading light at dusk, emerge the monumental dome and two bell towers of Santa Maria della Salute, one of the most iconic churches in Venice. Dotted lamp lights illuminate the perimeter of the site, casting soft reflections on to the surface of the Grand Canal. There is a calm stillness to Robert Buhler’s atmospheric scene, which conjures up the sounds of the gentle lap of water and the distant horns of passing vaporetto that ply up and down the city’s waterways.
Santa Maria della Salute was completed in 1681, fifty years after its initial conception and design by Baldassare Longhena. The summer of 1629 had brought the first wave of a lethal plague which killed over 45,000 people over the next two years. The Senate of the city attempted in vain to halt the epidemic by offering prayers and church dedications on behalf of the city. Inspired by the Redentore, the earlier Venetian church designed by Palladio in the 1570s in response to an earlier plague, the Senate agreed on a new church. The Salute became the site of a major annual procession dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the protector of Venice. Located in the Dorsoduro district, the Salute occupies a site close to the Dogana da Mar (Customs House) and facing the Basilica of San Marco.
Although undated, it is likely that Twilight, Venice (II) is one of Buhler’s later works, one of many landscapes he painted in England, France and Italy. His earlier works show the influence first of the Camden Town Group; while later works owe more to the realist tradition of the Euston Road School. Although Buhler was born and trained in Switzerland, he developed a very English response to landscape, becoming known for his quiet depictions of the Essex and Suffolk countryside, where he rented cottages after the War. From the 1960s on, he produced a number of landscapes dominated by colour and pattern. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Buhler also received portrait commissions from British literary and artistic figures, including Sir John Betjeman, Laurie Lee, Kingsley Amis and Francis Bacon.
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