The story of the marble sculpture created by artist Paul Shipperheyn that serves as Laurence Matheson’s gravestone.
“Asleep” by Paul Shipperheyn, the gravestone of Laurence Matheson
This life-size marble sculpture of a sleeping woman is the gravestone of Laurence Matheson (1930-1987) in Mt Macedon Cemetery of Victoria, Australia.
“Asleep” was sculpted by Peter Shipperheyn, who first met Matheson, an “extraordinary individual” according to Shipperheyn, in 1981 after his first one man art exhibition of work he carved on a scholarship in Carrara, Italy in 1979.
Matheson had purchased a life-size marble sculpture Shipperheyn carved of his own wife, Cinzia. It was the largest work he had created at that point, requiring eight people to move it from the truck to Matheson’s garden when it was delivered.
“After much cursing and one squashed finger we placed the piece on the site,” Shipperheyn said. “At this point, Laurie, who had pitched in and sweating like the rest of us, introduced himself, declaring he liked my work very much. Up until this point I had not realized this, thought that he was one of the staff around the place.”
Matheson invited Shipperheyn and Cinzia to celebrate the arrival of the sculpture over a glass of champagne. During the course of conversation, Matheson asked the artist what his plans for his future were.
“What I really would like to do is go back to Carrara and carve a big chunk of marble,” Shipperheyn told him, but expressed that he had no idea how he was going to achieve that without money.
“Laurie got up and came back shortly after, put a fistful of money in my hand and said why don’t you go back to Carrara and make me a BIG sculpture!” Shipperheyn recalled.
Excited and grateful for the opportunity, the artist returned to his studio and worked up a clay maquette. Once completed, Shipperheyn and Cinzia again met with Matheson to present his concept.
“We arrived at his country house outside of Melbourne, a party of Russian business people were whooping it up, fired up on the “flammable stuff,” as they like to refer to Smirnoff,” Shipperheyn said of the event.
Matheson asked to see the piece, so Shipperheyn unwrapped it and placed it on the table.
It was a mockup of what would become a tall, rough pillar with nude male and female figures back to back carved in Carrara marble.
“Everybody enthused over the image, and I was dreaming about carving it in marble already,” Shipperheyn said. “When it came to formalizing the business aspect of the commission, Laurie pulled me aside as the Russians broke out in song and said, ‘Well, what will it cost?’ I bit my tongue and told him the price. At the time it seemed to me like a small fortune. Without further mention, Laurie got up and disappeared, returning shortly afterwards, and to my amazement he paid the whole amount upfront.”
“Don’t you want me to sign a contract?” Shipperheyn asked.
“What will a contract do?” Matheson said. “I have made up my mind and I don’t think that you would be so silly as to squander the opportunity that this represents for you.”
Shipperheyn took the money and he and Cinzia spent the next 12 months in Carrara working on the sculpture for Matheson and many other works in preparation for his second show.
In 1987, Matheson became ill and died not long after. His widow, Christina, commissioned Shipperheyn to carve one last piece for her husband – the sleeping female figure that now marks his grave.
“I think of him with great affection and cherish having known him,” Shipperheyn said of Matheson, “and thank him for the extraordinary difference he made to my life.”