Angry Penguins was a modernist literary and artistic movement that sought to shake up the entrenched cultural establishment of Australia in the 1940s

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  • Sir Sidney Nolan, 'Inland Australia' 1950
    Sir Sidney Nolan
    Inland Australia 1950
    Oil on hardboard
    support: 1219 x 1524 mm frame: 1370 x 1676 x 58 mm
    Purchased 1951
  • Arthur Boyd, 'Bride Drinking from a Creek' 1960
    Arthur Boyd
    Bride Drinking from a Creek 1960
    Oil on hardboard
    support: 610 x 812 mm
    Bequeathed by Ann Forsdyke through the Art Fund 2010© The estate of Arthur Boyd

Angry Penguins was originally the title of an Australian modernist literary journal founded in 1940 at University of Adelaide by four poets: D.B. Kerr, M.H. Harris, P.G. Pfeiffer and G. Dutton. At this time the University of Adelaide was a focus of modernist writing and debate under the influence of the poet playwright and teacher C.R. Jury, who acted as patron to the magazine.

The name became that of the modernist literary and artistic movement, centred around Harris, that sought to shake up the entrenched cultural establishment of Australia in the 1940s. They were seen as ‘angry’ young men; the rebels of their day. The Angry Penguins, said Harris, expressed ‘a noisy and aggressive revolutionary modernism’ and represented the new language and the new painting of Australia. They were forthright and unapologetic, demanding to be heard and seen. The artists included Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker.

In 1944 Angry Penguins was the victim of a famous literary hoax when two opponents concocted a set of modernist poems by a writer they invented called Ern Malley. Harris published them and a storm ensued when the hoax was revealed. Harris was tried and convicted for publishing obscenities and the cause of modernism in Australia was substantially set back.