Isaac Israels is the son of artist Jozef Israels, one of the most important exponents of the trend in art known as The Hague School. The Hague School is characterized by a realistic rendering of the Dutch countryside in dark, grey tones. At the start of his career Isaac paints just like his father, mainly large realistic works with social overtones. Later he develops his own style. He becomes increasingly interested in rapidly recording his subjects and leaving out more and more of the details. Because of this Israels is seen as the Dutch representative of Impressionism.
'Transport of colonial soldiers' is one of Israel's early realistic works. He makes the work at the age of eighteen, and like many of his other military pieces it is an immediate and great success. His work at that time still shows obvious similarities with that of his father, among them the presence of drama (visible in the old woman in the foreground). Yet even this early work suggests he is more interested in observation than in the feeling such observation releases.
In this painting Israels is depicting the soldiers from the Royal Dutch East Indian Army. They are walking across the Koningsbrug in Rotterdam to embark on the voyage to the Dutch East Indies. The bridge was popularly known as the Four Lions' Bridge and was taken down in 1960. Three of the four lions were placed in new locations in Rotterdam; the fourth was moved to Ede.
Israels made many detail studies for this monumental painting, varying from scribbles to fully elaborated sketches. Helene Kröller-Müller, who greatly admitted Israel's ability to quickly capture the essential features of his subject, bought 24 of his paintings during her lifetime and acquired at least 448 works on paper.