Danielle Avidan and Anna Mireille Abitbol Archive
The UCLA Sephardic Archive Initiative is delighted to announce the acquisition, by UCLA Special Collections, of the Danielle Avidan (neé Abitbol) and Anna Mireille Abitbol Archive.
Anna Mireille Abitbol was one of Algeria's first female and Jewish artists of distinction of the early twentieth century. Abitbol was born to a well-to-do Sephardic Jewish family of Livornese origin in 1908 in Oran, Algeria. As Algerian Jews, her parents Menahem Abitbol and Estella “Berthe” Abitbol (née Ben Haim) were French citizens by virtue of the 1870 Crémieux Decree. According to Danielle Avidan (née Abitbol), her grandfather Menahem Abitbol was in the import-export business and dealt in coffee and sugar by way of Guatemala. Avidan has noted that Abitbol was made an honorary consul of Guatemela at some point during the interwar period.
While many Algerian Jews sent their children to the Jewish Alliance israélite universelle school system, the young Anna Mireille Abitbol instead attended the Catholic Les Dames Africaines where she was first exposed to art. Abitbol went on to study painting at the École des Beaux Arts in Oran. During the 1930 Centennial celebrations, which marked one hundred years of French rule in Algeria, Abitbol took home first prize for her watercolor “Flowers in a Chinese Vase.”
By the mid-1930s, Abitbol had moved to France, where she studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Two photographic albums from this period are held by Getty Special Collections, as “Algerian albums,” Abitbol, Anna Mireille (1908-1995). By 1937, Abitbol was exhibiting at the annual Salon d’Automne. As her daughter Danielle Avidan has observed, it was on the eve of World War II that Abitbol took to signing her work under the name of Anna Mireille Duparc – a move that obscured her Jewish family name in the face of rising anti-Semitism.
In 1938, Menahem Abitbol moved the family to Casablanca where Anna Mireille soon joined them. Danielle Abitbol (Avidan) was born in Casablanca in 1941. Like her mother, Danielle Abitbol attended a non-Jewish school, the École du Centre, although she lived with her family in the relatively Jewish neighborhood of Place du Verdun. She attended lycée at the College Mers Sultan. Among Abitbol’s earliest jobs was secretarial work at the United States Air Force (USAF) base just outside of Casablanca (now Mohammed V International Airport) where she first began her study of English. She eventually went on to earn an English certificate through the University of Michigan at the American Embassy in Casablanca.
In the 1960s, Danielle Abitobl’s multilingualism and sense of haute couture (more than evident in her photo collection) landed her a job at Revlon in Paris. By 1966, she was back in Morocco, where she was among the earliest employees of the Rabat Hilton. In 1979, Danielle Abitbol moved to Los Angeles with her mother Anna Mireille Abitbol and her aunt Edmée Abitbol. Danielle Abitbol married Bernard Avidan in Los Angeles that same year.
Anna Mireille Abitbol died in Los Angeles in 1995. In her 87 years, Abitbol led a rather remarkable, if short lived, international art career, experienced life on three continents, witnessed upheaval, war, and decolonization, and raised a family.
In 2006, Danielle Avidan honored her mother with an exhibit entitled, “Two Sephardic Visions from Classic to Contemporary,” which was held at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood. In stewarding her mother's archive, Avidan has continued to honor her and remained connected to North African life and culture.
The AMAA is divided into two archival boxes. Objects date from 1876 through the 1990s. Languages represented include French, English, Hebrew, and Arabic. The geographic range of the archive extends from Algeria to Morocco and from France to Los Angeles.