As the art world grows swollen—bloated by money, distended by exaggerations of scale—the small becomes more interesting to those with a contrary turn of mind. Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789), an unfamiliar artist here but well-known in his native Switzerland, was a sharp-eyed master of the tiny but brilliant effect. At home as a miniaturist, he preferred pastels to oils and was better at portraying intelligent women than important men. His women become intimates who, it seems certain, could amuse a salon or charm a stranger in a corner tête-à-tête. Flaubert, no small student of women, described one Liotard subject this way: “Mme de l’Épinay [sic], thin face, black hair, black eye, long jaw, homely, but a woman one notices and that one would surely love greatly if one loved (she must have smelled either rank or sweet).”
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