Robert Gill

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Robert Gill
Robert Gill.jpg
Gill at Ajanta
Born(1804-09-26)September 26, 1804[1]
Hackney, London, England
DiedApril 10, 1875(1875-04-10) (aged 70)[1]
en route from Ajanta to Bhusawal, India.
Resting placeCatholic Cemetery, Bhusawal
21°3′2.39″N 75°47′43.47″E / 21.0506639°N 75.7954083°E / 21.0506639; 75.7954083
OccupationArmy Officer, artist, photographer, sportsman
Known forcopying the paintings of Ajanta caves.
Spouse(s)Frances Flowerdew Rickerby[1]
Partner(s)Paro, a native girl of Ajanta
another woman after the death of Paro.[2]
 
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Robert Gill
Robert Gill.jpg
Gill at Ajanta
Born(1804-09-26)September 26, 1804[1]
Hackney, London, England
DiedApril 10, 1875(1875-04-10) (aged 70)[1]
en route from Ajanta to Bhusawal, India.
Resting placeCatholic Cemetery, Bhusawal
21°3′2.39″N 75°47′43.47″E / 21.0506639°N 75.7954083°E / 21.0506639; 75.7954083
OccupationArmy Officer, artist, photographer, sportsman
Known forcopying the paintings of Ajanta caves.
Spouse(s)Frances Flowerdew Rickerby[1]
Partner(s)Paro, a native girl of Ajanta
another woman after the death of Paro.[2]

Major Robert Gill (1804–1875)[3] was an army officer, antiquarian, painter and photographer in British India. He is best known for his paintings copying the frescoes of the Ajanta caves. Gill was the first painter[A] – after their rediscovery in 1819 – to make extensive copies of the Buddhist cave paintings, which mostly date to the 5th century CE. His surviving copies and drawings remain significant in Ajanta studies as the originals have significantly deteriorated since his time.[4]

Biography[edit]

Family and military service[edit]

Gill was born in Hackney, London, the son of a stockbroker. On 25 May 1825, he married Frances Flowerdew Rickerby at St Luke's Church, Chelsea, in London. He had joined the 44th Madras Native Infantry as a cadet the previous year, and became an ensign on 6 May 1825, immediately before his marriage. Promotion to Lieutenant followed in September 1826, and to Captain on 6 May 1840; finally he was promoted to Major. He was discharged as an invalid on 1 October 1852.[1][5] A son, William John Gill, was born in Bangalore in 1843. His wife returned to England in the 1850s; he also had children by at least one Indian woman, with a daughter named Mildred Mary Gill.[1]

Dancing girl in Ajanta fresco, showing deterioration between the cave now (left) and Gill's copy.[6]

Career[edit]

Gill was a member of The Royal Asiatic Society, and this association was eventually parlayed into copying the murals that had first been published in a lecture by James Fergusson to the Bombay branch of the Society, and later inclusion and illustration in his book in Indian rock-cut architecture.[7][8] From 1844, Gill was taken away from military service to copy the Ajanta murals for the Asiatic Society of Bombay, at an additional salary of 200 rupees a year. He spent thirty years measuring, mapping, cataloging, photographing, and painting in the caves, despite dangers from wild animals and the local Bhil people.[8]

Arriving at Ajanta in early 1845, he completed an initial survey and inspection, submitting a report the same year. He began to ship completed paintings back to London in 1847, where many were exhibited at the museum of the East India Company. A number of them were reproduced, somewhat crudely, in an article in 1849 in the Illustrated London News.[9] He had copied about 30 of the principal frescoes on canvas at almost full-size by 1863, when the painting phase of his work largely ended; these works were sent to London.[5] Unfortunately, twenty-five of his pictures were burnt during the 1866 fire at The Crystal Palace, where they were on loan and being exhibited.[3][8] Another was destroyed by a fire in a storeroom in the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in 1885. This was the same fire that destroyed most of the next generation of Ajanta copies, just completed by a team from the Bombay School of Art. None of Gill's lost copies had been photographed. The four surviving Gill copies are in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; a number of his drawings are in the British Library.[5]

Gill remained based at Ajanta for the rest of his life, also making tours to other ancient sites in India. He took up photography, including stereoscopy, in about 1856, and much of his photographic work is published in two books, The Rock-Cut Temples of India,[10] and One Hundred Stereoscopic Illustrations of Architecture and Natural History in Western India, with notes by James Fergusson.[3][5][8][11][12]

Gill's surviving photographs, drawings, and paintings are constantly cited by scholars of Ajanta and Indian art generally, as they have preserved the memories of original painted surfaces that have undergone significant flaking. Accelerated deterioration began immediately upon the caves' rediscovery starting in 1819. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, even in Gill's time the original cave paintings could be seen suffering damage from frequent, unsupervised visitation and also from "swarms of bees and bats."[4] Gill's works also record the condition of the stonework at the time; some sections have since been lost, such as the portico to Cave 1,[13] and others considerably repaired and tidied. Many of his plans, drawings, and photographs are available online at the British Library and other places.[14]

Death and burial[edit]

Like many other British Indian officers of those days, Gill was an avid hunter and killed about 150 tigers, mostly on foot.[3] He died in 1875 while being transported from Ajanta to Bhusawal in a very ill condition,[3][8] and was buried at the Catholic Cemetery at Bhusawal.[5]

Modern interpretations[edit]

In 2012, a Marathi language movie was made based on his work and his love story with a native girl Paro.[15]

Gills' painting
Copy of scene in Cave 1 by Gill, now Victoria and Albert Museum, 2.3 x 2.74 metres.
Gills' photo
Photograph by Gill of the interior of Cave 26 at Ajanta from the Allardyce Collection

Bibliography[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Upadhyay 1994, p. 1 notes that Fide Jesus, a native, had drawn and lithographed these paintings before Robert Gill (c. 1836) those were published in 1847.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e McLaughlin, Colman (February 13, 2002). "Seeking information on Robert Gill". Rootsweb. Retrieved 2012-10-24.  This is a mail by Major Gill's descendent, which contains some valuable information.
  2. ^ McLaughlin, James (2009). "Personal Stories – DNA Discussion Project". West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2012-10-24. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Buckland 1906, p. 166
  4. ^ a b Patel, Divia – Curator, Asian Department; Costaras, Nicola – Head Paintings Conservator (Spring 2006). "Conserving the copies of the Ajanta cave paintings at the V&A". Conservation Journal (Victoria & Albert Museum) (52). Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Gordon, 234–238
  6. ^ Detail from this painting in the V&A
  7. ^ Fergusson's book was The Rock-cut Temples of India, published in 1845. Gibson, pp 230–234
  8. ^ a b c d e Rohatgi, Pauline; Godrej, Pheroza (March 2009). "8 "Reflections Of Change"". INDIAN LIFE AND LANDSCAPES BY WESTERN ARTISTS. Mumbai: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), formerly the Prince of Wales Museum. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  9. ^ Gordon, 235
  10. ^ Ferguson, James (9 April 2008). "The Rock Cut Temples of India" (Albumen prints). India and Beyond in Books and Photography. Bonhams Auctioneer. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Gordon, 236–238; Gill, Robert (1869/26 March 2009). "General view of Buddhist Caves II-XXVI, Ajanta" (Photographic print). British Library. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 
  12. ^ Gill, Robert, photographer; Fergusson, James, description (1864). One hundred stereoscopic illustrations of architecture and natural history in western India. London: Cundall, Downes. 
  13. ^ Compare Gill's photo with a modern view
  14. ^ Search page for British Library online collections
  15. ^ "Ajintha-the film". Chandrakant Production Pvt. Ltd. 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-24. 

Sources[edit]