During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the influence of oil painting and the increasing demand for naturalism in painting forced a large number of anonymous bazaar painters to adapt inherited formats of religious pictures to new visual tastes. A common characteristic of all these paintings was an attempt at naturalism evident in the three dimensional modelling of anatomies and faces, and in the laying out of background landscapes. Naturalism was always combined with a careful eye to iconographic accuracy and an intricate design of costumes and ornaments.
While this new kind of iconography emerged from the world of artisan painters, it anticipated and paralleled similar trends of Indian mythological painting among the elite artists of Calcutta. Little is recorded about any of these artists, but Motilal Pal is known to have won an award at the Calcutta Fine Art Exhibition of 1879. Whatever concessions to Indian iconography and decorative ornamentation Pal's paintings may have had, it is clear they must have had the marked stamp of a Western Academic style to have merited a place alongside the work of trained artists in a 'fine art' exhibition.