Israel Zangwill was a famous novelist and playwright. Despite some dispute regarding its date, this portrait was almost certainly begun when both the artist and Zangwill were in Venice in 1896. It can be seen in relation to Sickert’s self-portrait in profile, from 1897, which also features an architectural backdrop. The Venetian setting of Zangwill’s portrait is thought to represent the Ghetto Nuovo, an area of the city in which Jewish inhabitants had at one time been segregated. It is a fitting background for Zangwill, who was a leading Zionist. He had also recently published 'Children of the Ghetto', a novel set in London’s East End, an area which had seen a great deal of Jewish immigrants settle.