Margaret Michaelis: love, loss and photography


‘A remarkable synthesis of art criticism, biography, history and exploration, combining scholarship and fine writing.’
– Judges’ report, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2006

“Take the photographs,” the elderly photographer Margaret Michaelis said in October 1985 to Helen Ennis, then a young curator from the National Gallery of Australia. Michaelis died a few days later and her archive was donated to the Gallery. Like many of her generation, Michaelis’s life in Europe was dislocated by the rise of fascism and the outbreak of World War II, following which she suffered acute personal losses and challenges in finding a new path for her art and life in Australia.

For Ennis, the injunction from Michaelis resulted in a journey through the hundreds of photographs in Michaelis’s archive and to sites across the world in Vienna, Berlin, Barcelona, and Cracow. Crucial to the story are the dozens of love letters exchanged between Michaelis and her first husband, a prominent German anarchist imprisoned during the Spanish Civil War. Helen Ennis has approached the artistic legacy of Margaret Michaelis through a lucid and eloquent interweaving of her subject’s professional and personal life.

250 pages
ISBN: 978-0642541208
Published by the National Gallery of Australia


Winner of The Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-fiction at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2006.

Highly Commended in the Museums Australia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards (Book category) 2006.

Winner, Best Book at the Art Association of Australia & New Zealand 2006 awards

Table of Contents

Names used in this book

1. Mrs Sachs
2. Dusk
3. Vienna
4. Dear Gretl
5. Lovers
6. A sorry state
7. Berlin
8. Cracow
9. Encounter with Spain
10. Parting
11. A new spirit
12. The stage of history
13. Exile
14. Sydney
15. The dark chair
16. Forty-eight photographs
17. Redemption
18. Vienna

Note on the sources
Further reading
Author’s acknowledgments


National Gallery of Australia mini website: Margaret Michaelis: love, loss and photography
A Shared Space: Photography and Intimacy, speech at the Love and Desire conference held by the National Library of Australia in September 2006. Listen to the mp3 here.


Art Monthy Australia, issue 182, August 2005 by Drusilla Modjeska
Goodreads review by Debbie Robson

Available from

Google Books