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Born the son of a tailor on August 13, 1746 at Pont-à-Marc near Lille, Roland studied under Augustin Pajou (1730-1809); he assisted his teacher in such decorative projects as the Versailles Opera House. At his own expense, Roland studied five years in Italy, then became agréé at the Academy in 1782 with a terracotta figure, The Death of Cato (Louvre), though he never reached the title of full academician. His planned reception piece, a statue of Samson only survives as a wax sketch (Louvre; marble was lost). An early work, Study of an Old Man (1783; Musée d’Angers) relies heavily upon Pajou’s treatment of the same theme from 1761.
Between 1783 and 1785 Roland, along with Jean-Guillaume Moitte, did decoration for the Palace of the Legion of Honor (Hôtel de Salm-Kyrbourg), commissioned by the building’s architect, Pierre Rousseau. Henri Marcel (1902) compared the decoration at Pompeii to Roland’s elegant, shallow reliefs. A royal commission, part of the Grands hommes (Great Men of France) series, was Le Grand Condé (marble of 1787: Château de Versailles). Numerous portrait busts followed, including the terracotta Joseph-Benoît Suvée (1789) and the marble portrait of his daughter, Mademoiselle Roland (1805-06), both exhibited in Germany when the Louvre’s French sculptures were on tour (Skulptur aus dem Louvre, 1989). The latter received a gold medal from the Emperor and was praised by David d’Angers. A colossal plaster statue of Law and a stone bas-relief, titled Legislation, were Roland’s contributions to the porch of the Panthéon (1792-93; destroyed).
One of Roland’s works in the Metropolitan Museum is the playful terracotta titled Bacchante Riding a Goat, signed and dated 1796 (Salon of 1798). The state commissioned from Roland a marble statue of Homer (plaster, Salon of 1802; marble, 1812, Louvre) and later he executed Hercules at Rest (ca. 1805; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes), a theme that was popular since the Baroque era. The Institut houses Roland’s life-size marble statue of Napoleon, signed and dated 1810. Roland passed away on July 11, 1816.
Quatremère de Quincy, Antoine-Chrysostome. “Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. Roland, lue à l’Académie le 2 octobre 1819,” Recueil de notices historiques lues dans les séances publiques de l’Académie royale des Beaux-Arts à l’Institut (Paris: A. Leclerc & Co., 1834-37), pp. 101-120; Nicolle, Marcel. “Une maquette du sculpteur Roland au musée du Louvre.” Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, 1898, p. 223; Marcel, Henri. “Quelques oeuvres inédites de Philippe Roland.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 25 (1901): 177-187; Idem, “Philippe-Laurent Roland et la statuaire de son temps.” Revue de l’Art Ancien et Moderne 12 (July-December 1902): 134-146; Genoux, Denise. “Philippe-Laurent Roland, sa vie et ses oeuvres.” Thesis, Ecole du Louvre, 1963; Draper, James David. “Philippe-Laurent Roland in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Journal 27 (1992): 129-147; Scherf, Guilhem. “Roland, Philippe-Laurent,” in From David to Ingres: Early 19th Century French Artists. The Grove Dictionary of Art series. London and New York: Grove Art, 2000, pp. 360-361; Playing with Fire: European Terra-Cotta Models, 1740-1840. Exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum, 2004.