Goulet, Yann Renard- (1914–99), artist and sculptor, was born Jean Gustave Réné Goulet on 20 August 1914 at Saint-Nazaire, Brittany, France, son of Gustave Goulet, hotelier and chef. After being educated locally he began studying architecture before winning a scholarship to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied 1933–9, winning the Chenaver prize for drawing and second prize in sculpture. A passionate Breton nationalist, who changed his name to Yann and joined the movement for an independent Brittany at an early age, he played the bagpipes at the Berlin Olympic games in 1936, and the following year helped decorate the House of Brittany at the Paris international exhibition, winning a gold medal. Although he achieved some renown as a member of the Breton academy of arts and an exhibitor at the Galerie Susse Frères in Paris (1941), he found himself in difficulties with the French authorities after the second world war as he had spent the previous years protesting against French occupation of Brittany. Denounced as a traitor, he was forced to go into hiding with his wife, Vonig, and their two young children and was allegedly tried and condemned to death in absentia. In 1947, on the pretext of mounting an art exhibition, he travelled to Ireland with his family on false identity papers. They were taken in by Oscar McCarthy Willis, first at his home in Dalkey and later in Bray, where they settled in Herbert Road in a house called ‘Koatkeo’. They became Irish citizens in 1952 and a daughter, Brigid, was born in Ireland.
Initially unable to survive as an artist, Renard-Goulet took a job making concrete blocks, and held art classes in his home at night. After winning a competition to design the stations of the Cross for the mother home of Redemptionists in Scotland, he borrowed money from a bank to build a studio in which to execute the commission. Unfortunately the benefactor funding the project died, without leaving financial provision. However, three years later Renard-Goulet won another commission to design the Dublin Brigade memorial at the Custom House. A 5.5 m high bronze, the sculpture was completed in 1956 and put Renard-Goulet on the map in Ireland. Commissions came in and he was able to give up his manual job. In his 1957 exhibition at Brown Thomas's Little Theatre, Dublin, he showed twenty-seven paintings, twenty-three pastels and drawings, and fifteen sculptures including ‘Guerilla fighter’ and ‘Dying Christ’. The Dublin Magazine critic called him a strong and accomplished sculptor but decried his penchant for landscape in painting. At the Institute of Sculptors of Ireland exhibition at the Municipal Gallery (1959), he was represented by five works, most of them religious. The following year he showed at the RHA and from then till 1993 exhibited sixty works, initially under ‘Goulet’ and then ‘Renard-Goulet’.
An established and admired member of the artistic community with a characteristic appearance – Breton cap and cigarette between his lips – he was made external examiner at the National College of Art and Design (1974), was elected to Aosdána (1983), and was made RHA professor of sculpture (1986). He combined this academic and public profile with a strong commitment to the republican cause. Among his earliest works in Ireland was the 1959 bronze Ballyseedy memorial at Tralee, Co. Kerry, which commemorated Kerry republican prisoners blown up by the Free State forces during the civil war. At 18 ft x 15 ft (5.5 m x 4.6 m), it was his largest sculpture. On the outbreak of the ‘Troubles’ in 1969 he sent word of his support for an all-Ireland republic to the IRA and befriended Ruairi Ó Brádaigh, president of Sinn Féin. On several occasions Renard-Goulet addressed the Sinn Féin ard-fheis in support of a free Brittany, professing his satisfaction with the actions of the ARB–FLB (Armée Républicaine Bretonne–Front de Libération Breton) in demolishing French government offices. As a guest at the unveiling of the renovated Wolfe Tone memorial in Bodenstown (1971), he caused consternation by making a long verbal protest in the presence of the French ambassador during the playing of the ‘Marseillaise’. His republican commissions included the 1972 East Mayo Brigade IRA memorial at Kilkelly and a 1977 portrait of the recently killed Máire Drumm (qv). A 1979 commission for a large sculpture of a figure breaking free from chains was carried out in secrecy. When complete, it was taken at dead of night to Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh, where it was installed very quietly on a massive granite plinth in the town square. It subsequently became a large tourist attraction. In 1981 Renard-Goulet travelled to Belfast, at the request of Ó Brádaigh, to make a death mask of the hunger striker Bobby Sands (qv). However, the project was turned down by the local Belfast IRA leadership.
Other, more government-endorsed, commissions included a 1978 memorial to the Tipperary athlete Tom Kiely (qv) outside Ballyneale graveyard; a memorial to Christy Ring (qv) in Cloyne, Co. Cork, which was unveiled by Jack Lynch (qv) in 1983; a bust of C. S. Parnell (qv) for the house of commons in London, installed 1988, and two works for the ESB head office in Dublin. Portrait sitters included Charles Haughey (1925–2006) and Ben Dunne. A devout catholic, he provided the stations of the Cross for St Fergal's church, Bray (1981), and a sculpture for the Most Holy Redeemer church, also in Bray (1989). In sculptural terms he was a modeller rather than a carver, preferring bronze casting to stone carving. After his death (22 August 1999) at Carysfort nursing home, Glenageary, the RHA president, Carey Clarke, paid tribute to the vigorous liveliness of his work. A former president, Thomas Ryan, said that ‘[Renard-Goulet] never pretended to be a genius but I'd give him the highest accolade I could give anyone: he was competent. That's a rare quality’ (Ir. Times, 25 Aug. 2000).
He was predeceased by two years by his wife, but survived by his two daughters and his son.