(1746 Pont-à-Marc – Paris 1816)
Portrait of Etienne-Charles Loménie de Brienne (Paris, 1727-Sens, 1794)
Total height: 620 mm ; Width: 457 mm ;
Height of pedestal: 125 mm
Pedestal in wood painted to imitate marble
Provenance: Paris, private collection.
Done at a pivotal moment in the history of a France in the middle of Revolution, this portrait of Brienne is all the more striking in that it has never before been published—history having recorded him only in a poor depiction painted after Jean-Baptiste Despax (Versailles, Musée National du Château, inv.: MV3001) and a few engravings. To these we can now add a bust in the corpus of works by the sculptor Roland, done when the artist was at the height of his talent and executing his most brilliant work.
Soberly dressed in a redingote open over a knotted stock—only the blue ribbon of the Saint Esprit displayed on his breast underlines his high rank in the aristocracy—nothing at first sight here hints that this is the portrait of a bishop aside from his wig, of a style reserved for ecclesiastics. Moreover, this type of presentation—quite different from that of all the others executed in the second half of the 18th century—is probably seen here for the first time. It constitutes a perfect illustration of the exigencies that the Civil Constitution for the Clergy, voted on 12 July 1790, imposed on the Church of France, reorganizing it into a national church with a secular clergy, with bishops and priests alike named by the secular electoral assemblies in the départements.
Neither signed nor dated, it is probable that the artist made this sometime in the year 1791, after the archbishop had signed the Civil Convention of the Clergy. The absence of a signature—rather common among the portraits done by the artist—is largely compensated for by the full, supple manner, in the tradition of Pajou, and very characteristic of Roland’s style, nicely summarized by Quatremère de Quincy: “Some moderate invention, joined to sound execution; a balance in the spirit of the work, always finding what should be said, and the correct way to say it; science without ostentation; a facility that is appropriate, indicating his sense of the straightforward, of always taking the shortest way: here is what nature, perfected by study, was pleased to unite in him.”
Manipulating the chisel with perfectly mastered ease and suppleness, Roland’s inspiration came largely from his master, Augustin Pajou, in the way his models were presented: always in the 18th century tradition, not only by the position of the slightly turned head on the bust and the asymmetrical arrangement of the folds of clothing, but also by the non-idealized description of the features of the face with the “moderate realism” so habitual to the French portrait.