Fèlix Joseph Barrias was born in Paris in 1822. He was inspired at an early age by the work of his father, a porcelain painter, and enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts. Here, Fèlix studied under the renowned painter, Leon Cogniet until his graduation circa 1839. Upon commencement, Fèlix moved to Rome where he won the Prix de Rome for the painting Cincinnatus Receiving the Deputies of the Senate in 1844. He sent several paintings to the Paris Salon, and was accepted for exhibition in 1847. His work demonstrated a canon like classicism which is clearly seen in Spanish Letters. He continued to exhibit for the Salon, and also provided lithographic illustrations for versions of Homer and Virgil. During his lifetime he received various commissions for large murals in several Parisian churches, the Grand Hôtel du Louvre, and various private households. He died in 1907.
In this classically rendered painting titled Spanish Letters, Fèlix Joseph Barrias depicts the bustle of the daily mail service in rural Spain. Barrias was renowned for his socially and historically accurate genre scenes, many of which he exhibited in the Paris Salons. In the central background, is the Post Office with a sign over the archway that reads "Admón de Correos", or Post Office Administration. Hovering in the doorway and to the left of the entrance are three women engaged in reading their letters. The brilliant colors of the costume of Spanish Letters are typical of this period. Women's fashion changed from the former use of the hoop skirt in the early 1800s to the central bump in the rear of the dress as seen on the darkly robed figure in the left foreground. On the right side of the painting, a shoeless woman of the peasant class is shown holding up her child while he deposits a letter into the mail slot. The golden scarf that is draped over her shoulder is a typical feature of Spanish dress. To her left, is a centralized figure astride a donkey; the postal carrier. He is shown pointing at the two women in the doorway, and has his left hand behind his back clasping two letters.
Private French Collection