Otto Eerelman was born in Groningen in 1839 and expressed the desire to draw at a very young age. However, concerned about the future of their son, Otto's parents did everything to keep him from fully dedicating himself to his artistic vocation. The story goes that they even hid his pencils and crayons and on one occasion burnt his utensils. The passionate young artist however found a solution to his parent's tricks and decided to pierce his subject-matter in paper. After receiving training in calligraphy and working at an office, Otto Eerelman's dream finally came true when he entered the Academy of Minerva in Groningen. Here he received drawing and painting lessons from the director and historical painter Johannes Hinderikus Egenberger (1822-1897), who also taught Hendrik Willem and Taco Mesdag.
When he left the Academy in 1863 he took lessons at the Antwerp academy under the tutelage of professor Geefs until 1865. During the last year of this period he worked in the studio of Laurens Alma Tadema (1836-1912). Although Eerelman could have easily settled in Antwerp, he nevertheless returned to his native town Groningen and devoted himself to painting history-pieces there. Besides history-pieces, Eerelman also executed portraits, genre pieces and detailed renderings of Dutch interiors during these early years of his artistic career. The trips Eerelman subsequently undertook to Brussels, Paris, Vienna and London greatly enhanced his range of subject-matter with the artist filling sketchbooks with drafts of among others the Horse guards and the Prater. In 1867 the artist spent a sojourn in Paris and in Brussels from 1874. At first Otto Eerelman devoted himself to painting history pieces, portraits, genre pieces and detailed renderings of Dutch interiors. At the beginning of the 1880s Eerelman devoted himself to the portrayal of horses and dogs. An example of one of his horse portraits is the well-known picture of a young Wilhelmina with her pony 'Baby'. During a period of thirty years Eerelman dedicated himself to documenting the life of the princess and later Queen of the Netherlands and hereby established his reputation as a respected artist.
However, his portraits of dogs were always most popular. Many well-to-do dog owners brought their faithful companions to the artist's house at the Elandstraat in The Hague where it would stay for a period of time while being portrayed. Otto Eerelman painted all sorts of breeds, but preferred the larger breeds such as the Saint-Bernhard, the subject of the present painting. Eerelman was a master in capturing the expression and the characters of the dogs as well as their shiny coats.
Eerelman composed several paintings with Saint-Bernhard puppies. All brilliantly show Eerelman's skill in rendering the softness of the furs and the cheerful character of the young dogs. The present charming painting shows a group of small Saint-Bernhards in their pen. Two are cheekily playing with a hat which traditionally has always been believed to be the hat of the local postman. The six puppies depicted show Eerelman's talent in creating a completely natural composition. Two puppies at play, two others whose attention has been caught by something outside the composition, one sleeping and one boldly looking at the spectator. The soft stare of this little one holds ones gaze and draws the spectator into this moment of light heartedness captured in brushstrokes.