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Bihari, Sándor

(1856–1906), painter. Sándor Bihari (known as Alexander in the West) was one of the leading artists of late nineteenth-century Hungary, and a major representative of that country’s realist school of the 1880s. Although Bihari did not use specifically Jewish themes in his work, his career epitomized the contributions of Jews to Hungarian culture. Born in Rézbánya, a small town in Bihar county, he later lived in Debrecen and Nagyvárad (Rom., Oradea). Bihari was among the scores of Jews who freed themselves from the squalor of small-town life by utilizing their cultural and artistic abilities. In 1878, he made his way to Vienna where he studied painting under Carl Wurzinger and other Geneva masters; in Paris, he studied under Jean-Paul Laurens.

Bihari returned to Hungary in 1885. In the spring of 1886, he painted A Biró elött (Before the Judge), which won the grand prize at the Hungarian National Fine Art Society and was subsequently purchased by Emperor Franz Joseph. After another year with Laurens, he studied in Italy before returning to Hungary. His preferred region as a subject for painting was the Szolnok area.

Bihari’s early works reflected the influence of Munich realism. During his German period in the 1870s, his paintings contained realistic depictions of local scenes and humorist genre portraits of Hungarian folk life. He spent most of his later years (after 1892) with the Szolnok Group, an artist colony in the Great Hungarian Plains; his associates there included Bertalan Karlovszky and Mark Rubivics. During this period, his style gravitated toward pleinairism, and the sharp, diverse characteristics and honest humor in his work reached full development, with color effects that resembled those of impressionism. His major works included Paraszt fiu (Young Peasant, also called The Melon-Eater; exact date unknown), A Zagyva partján (On the Banks of the River Zagyva; 1890s), Vasárnap délután (Sunday Afternoon; 1893), A tornácon (On the Veranda; ca. 1900), and Öreg asszony (Old Lady; ca. 1900). He also painted portraits of himself, Adolf Ágai, and Karóly Eötvös, who led the defense in the famous Tiszaeszlár trial. Bihari converted to Christianity on his deathbed.

Suggested Reading

Péter Ujvári, ed., “Bihari Sándor,” in Magyar Zsidó Lexikon, pp. 122–123 (Budapest, 1929); Salomon Wininger, ed., “Sándor Bihari,” in Grosse jüdische National-Biographie, vol. 3, p. 376 (Liechtenstein, 1979).