It is a well known story that the discovery of the complex of Buddhist caves at Ajanta in 1819 led to several attempts to document the paintings inside them, these being the earliest extant paintings in India. Today guide books to India continue to recount how Major Robert Gill was appointed in 1844 to make facsimile copies of them (Footprints 2005, p. 1116). He spent 18 years stationed at this remote site and of the 27 or so paintings he produced and sent to London all but 5 were subsequently destroyed in a fire at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham where they were on display. A second attempt to copy the paintings was made in the 1870s by John Griffiths and students from the Bombay School of Art who produced some 335 paintings. These copies were sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where once again fire struck in 1885, destroying a number of them.
These bare, often repeated facts are an oversimplification of a much more complex story whichhas become obscured over the years. At present the V&A has 4 paintings by Robert Gill and 153 by Griffiths's party. A major conservation project in the summer of 2005 on 80 of those paintings prompted a further study. The project allowed for a close comparison of the two sets of paintings, drawing attention to the differences between them. On brief examination of written references it also became apparent that while Griffiths's work was well documented through his seminal publication of 1896, there was very little information on Robert Gill. It is the aim of this paper to investigate the production of these sets of paintings, through both the findings of the conservation project and as yet unpublished documents, thus enabling a better appreciation of them.