Phillippe-Laurent Roland studied studied first at the École de Dessin in Lille, near his hometown. He then moved to Paris, where he entered the studio of Augustin Pajou, whose influence remained with him for life. Roland collaborated on Pajou's decorations at the Palais-Royal and at the Royal Opéra at Versailles. In 1771 he paid his own way to Italy, where he remained for five years. Returning to Paris, he was accepted into the Académie Royale in 1782. Two years later, his father-in-law secured employment for him as a decorative sculptor in the private apartments of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.
During the French Revolution, Roland became a founder-member of the Institut de France and a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. His naturalistic portraits were particularly admired; in 1800 he received a prize of 6000 francs for his bust of Pajou. Roland's Neoclassical style is characterized by an interest in antique sculpture blended with lyrical naturalism and variety in the treatment of surfaces. He passed on this combination of Neoclassical austerity and realism to his most famous pupil, Pierre-Jean David d'Angers, who wrote a biography of his beloved teacher.