chapter  8
21 Pages

Aliens at Prayer

Representing Jewish Life in the East End of London, c.1905
BySamuel Shaw

In August 1905—the very heart of the Edwardian era—Arthur Balfour's Tory government passed the first major British anti-immigration legislation, commonly known as The Aliens Act. The Aliens Act may not have been driven by anti-semitic sentiment; nonetheless, it fueled a long-running public debate about the presence of Jews in Britain, prompting a growth of interest in the Zionist movement. Robert Ross noted in a review of an exhibition featuring William Rothenstein's Aliens at Prayer, held at Agnew's in 1906, that artists of the New English Art Club were defined not so much by what they sought to achieve, but by what they sought to avoid. Rothenstein and Wolmark's representations of Jewish life are much more than politically interesting oddities; they are also, in many ways, typical Edwardian paintings, responding as much as to artistic debates at the turn of the century as they do to the nuances of Anglo-Jewish identity.