Painted in 1797, this intimate and lively half-length portrait depicts the 51-year-old sculptor Philippe-Laurent Roland (1746-1816), an exact contemporary and longtime friend of Vincent's who was also his colleague in the lnstitut, which had been established in 1795 to replace the defunct Royal Academy. Roland is shown from the side, sitting with his body angled slightly toward the viewer and his proper right arm resting informally on the back of his chair. His hand, dominating the center foreground, lightly grips an ebauchoir, a sculptural tool used for working plaster. The artist's costume, consisting of a well-worn jacket, waistcoat, and loose shirt with pleated frill, is decidedly simple, dignified and workmanlike - a world apart from the extreme fashions of the strutting young peacocks who were being labeled Jncroyab/es in the late 1790s. His gray, powdered hair unpretentiously disheveled, Roland engages us directly, his self assured expression a marvel of psychological nuance. On one hand his level gaze is cool and restrained, perhaps even faintly quizzical in his calm appraisal of the viewer, brow slightly furrowed. Yet his demeanor is also open and warm, his parted lips heightening our sense of an intelligent character caught in the moment, his guard dropping in a friendly encounter between equals.
Vincent's restricted, sober palette, typical of revolutionary-period male portraits, is likewise subtly nuanced, ranging from the cool, light grays of the background, the warm browns of Roland's jacket and the creams and whites of his waistcoat and shirt, to the ruddy flush of his cheeks and the red of the honorific ribbon pinned to the inside of his jacket, which offer a counterpoint to the dull green of the chair back. Throughout Vincent's masterful paint handling is evident, from the lightly brushed background that imparts a wonderful sense of space, to the firm, sculptural modeling of Roland's head and hand, whose three-dimensionality is emphasized by the painter's sophisticated modulation of light and shade. The resulting sense of physical acy, of vital presence, is extraordinary, and is only strengthened by the tight framing of the composition, the proximity of the sitter to the picture plane, and the suppression of superfluous details.