Robert Buhler was born in London of Swiss parentage. He first studied art in Switzerland, in 1933, at the Kunstgewerbe Schule, Zurich, and also in Basle. On his return to London, he attended St Martin’s School of Art under Harry Morley, Vivian Pitchforth and Leon Underwood. But, while he then won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, he gave it up after six months in favour of a studio in Camden Town. While establishing himself as a painter, he also taught part-time at Wimbledon School of Art.
Buhler met leading members of the Euston Road School in his mother’s Soho cafe and bookshop.
Though he did not join these artists, he was inspired by their spare compositions and restrained palettes. S¬pecialising in portraits in oil and pastel, he first exhibited in 1936, at which time he was singled out by the art critic Herbert Read. Two years later, he made his name with his portrait of Stephen Spender, which, well received, was bought by the Contemporary Art Society. Other sitters would include W H Auden, Francis Bacon, John Betjeman, Arthur Koestler and Ruskin Spear.
By the end of the Second World War, Buhler had become an established figure. He was elected a Royal Academician (ARA 1947, RA 1956), and taught at both Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Turning from portraiture to landscape, he worked frequently in East Anglia, renting cottages until 1964, and then moving ton Moat House, Hethel, near Wymondham, Norfolk.
Sir John Rothenstein wrote of his landscapes, that ‘at least at first glance [they appear] as straightforward representations, which is far from the fact, ... their realistic look is illusory, for they are based upon elaborate geometrical designs and their apparent straightforwardness is testimony to the thought devoted to their composition’.
His work is represented in the collections of the Arts Council, the Contemporary Art Society, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery.