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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grace Alekhine

Grace N. Alekhine (née Wishaar ( also Wishar, Wishard, Wishart) Peeke, Freeman) was born on 26 October 1876 and died in March of 1956 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.  She was an American–British–French artist, chess player and the fourth and last wife of Alexander Alekhine. It may also have been her 4th marriage. There are reports that she had at least two additional marriages before Archibald Freeman but is has never been verified.
     Born in New Jersey to Emile Bernard Wishard and Marie Ida Smith she received training at the New York School of Art under William Chase and began her career in painting there. In 1898, she married a man named Eisler and moved to Seattle, Washington; that same year her son was born there; he was known as Carroll Earl Beauchamp Peeke throughout his life but it is uncertain where the name "Peeke" came from. She herself was also sometimes known by this name.
     Carroll Earl Beauchamp Peeke was a World War II veteran and newspaperman who died in San Francisco on June 19, 1991 at the age of 92. From his obituary: Colonel Peeke was a native of Seattle and a graduate of Oakland High School and the University of California at Berkeley. He joined the San Francisco Call-Bulletin newspaper in 1922 and later worked as city and diplomatic editor at the Times Herald in Washington, D.C. In 1941, he turned from newspaperman man to soldier, entering the military service as managing editor of the War Department Bureau of Public Relations.
Colonel Peeke

     Later, he served on Army general staff duty in Washington, D.C., and with the U.S. Military Missions and the Fifth Army in Ecuador, Brazil, North Africa and Italy. He earned the Order of the Palms and Croix de Guerre. In 1950, he was elected commander of the San Francisco chapter of the Military Order of World Wars. In the 1970s, he became historian of the Episcopal Diocese of California and wrote extensively about his wife Mary's great grandfather, William Ingraham Kip, the first Episcopal bishop of California.
     Sometime early in the early 1900's she moved to Oakland, California: there, again as Grace Wishaar, she established a career as a visual artist. Interestingly, her work became known on both a large and small scale: as a theatrical scenery painter (in San Francisco's Majestic Theater, and Oakland's Ye Liberty Playhouse), and as a miniature portraitist (author Jack London was a client; she painted his young daughters). Of her stage work, it was reported: One of the bright women in Mr. Harry Bishop's employ is Miss Grace Wishaar. Miss Wishaar is interesting from many points, but she is distinctively interesting from the fact that she is the only woman scenic artist. She began her work at the Herald Square Theater, New York.
     That is, she was grudgingly allowed to make a trial there after showing a persistence that no amount of rebuff could discourage. It was not long, however, until she won the respect of the men with whom she worked because she never took advantage of the fact she was a woman and she never shirked her work. In fact, the men soon learned to appreciate her womanly understanding in the preparation of home scenes, and her settings for the various productions were appreciated for their decorations.
     By the spring of 1914, she was exhibiting her portraiture work at the Spring Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris. 1914 seems to be the year she permanently left the United States. She later married Archibald Freeman, a British tea-planter in Ceylon (he died in the early 1930s), and she retained British citizenship to the end of her life.
     She had won a minor chess tournament in Tokyo and played Alekhine in a simultaneous exhibition there in 1933. Her prize was one of Alekhine's books. She asked him to sign the book and their relationship developed from that moment. They were married in March 1934 at Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice, France. The marriage certificate says her maiden name was Wishaar. She was 16 years older than her husband and wealthy, with a magnificent chateau called La Chatellenie Saint-Aubin-le-Cauf, a few miles southwest of Dieppe in Normandy, and an art studio in Paris.
     In 1935, she finished outside the top four in the French Championship (Paulette Schwartzmann won) in Paris. Both she and Alekhine competed at Hastings in 1936/7 when he won the Premier and she won 3rd prize in the 3rd Class Morning A.
   During World War II, the Nazis took over their chateau and looted it. Today you can stay there.  She moved to Paris but Alekhine was free to travel; no exit visa was given to Grace. He was effectively exiled to Portugal while Grace elected to remain in France to monitor the welfare of her various properties at the mercy of the invaders.
     She even found time to compete in the Paris Championship of 1944 when she became the Ladies Champion. After World War II, she sold her chateau under American Embassy protection. She spent her final years in her studio in Paris, but visited St. Ives, Cornwall, where she was a member of the local chess club.
     She later led the effort to get Alekhine’s body transferred to the Cimetiere de Montparnasse in Paris. The USSR and French Chess Federation paid to transfer the remains from Portugal to Paris. After she died the notes in Alekhine’s handwriting were allegedly found in her effects to prove he wrote the Nazi articles entitled Aryan and Jewish Chess, published in March 1941 (an anti-Semitic slander of Jewish chess strategies). This was particularly ironic, as Grace herself was likely of Jewish ancestry (surviving the Nazi occupation of France). Her son, however, was raised an Episcopalian, and it is unlikely she practiced Judaism.
     In the early 1950s, she was visited in Paris by her granddaughter Roberta Peeke: the young woman was invited to her address her as "Lady Grace." She was buried next to Alexander in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris, to where Alekhine's body had been transferred from Portugal after a long campaign she had led. Her grave spells her maiden name as Wishar.

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