The Bengal school arose as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the academic art styles previously promoted in India, both by Indian artists such as Raja Ravi Varma and in British art schools. Following the influence of Indian spiritual ideas in the West, the British art teacher Ernest Binfield Havell attempted to reform the teaching methods at the Calcutta School of Art by encouraging students to imitate Mughal miniatures. This caused controversy, leading to a strike by students and complaints from the local press, including from nationalists who considered it to be a retrogressive move. Havell was supported by the artist Abanindranath Tagore, a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore painted a number of works influenced by Mughal art, a style that he and Havell believed to be expressive of India's distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the "materialism" of the West. Tagore's best-known painting, Bharat Mata (Mother India), depicted a young woman, portrayed with four arms in the manner of Hindu deities, holding objects symbolic of India's national aspirations. Tagore later attempted to develop links with Japanese artists as part of an aspiration to construct a pan-Asianist model of art. Other painters and artists of Bengal school were Gaganendranath Tagore (Tagore's brother), Asit Kumar Haldar, M.A.R Chughtai, Kiron Sinha, Sunayani Devi (sister of Abanindranath Tagore), Kshitindranath Majumdar, Nandalal Bose, Kalipada Ghoshal, Sughra Rababi and Sudhir Khastgir.
The Bengal school's influence in India declined with the spread of modernist ideas in the 1920s. As of 2012, there has been a surge in interest in the Bengal school of art among scholars and connoisseurs.
However Bengal continues to produce some of the best artists of modern India.There is a department in Govt.College Of Art & Craft that has been training students the traditional style of tempera and wash painting for almost a century now .These students are carrying the legacy of the Bengal School artists, who initially were a group of artists,following Abanindranath's style and sharing his aesthetic vision Among them Dhirendranath Brahma is the living legend of Bengal school of art.He is a master of calligraphy and has innumerable students who are carrying on the tradition of Bengal School of painting.Among the other renowned artists of this style of painting are Ajoy Ghosh,Sankarlal Aich,Amal Chaklader,Narendranath De Sarkar,Sukti Subhra Pradhan& Ratan Acharya. Some of the best known artists of present day Bengal are Ganesh Pyne, Manishi Dey, Shanu Lahiri,Ganesh Haloi Nirmal Dutta, Nilima Dutta, Jahar Dasgupta, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Sudip Roy and Devajyoti Ray. Sanat Chatterjee is one of the last living pioneer of Bengal School of art. Studied under Asit Kumar Haldar around fifteen years.