The Ajanta murals told the Jataka stories of the lives of the Buddha in images of supreme elegance and grace. Unlike the flatter art of much later Indian miniature painting, here the artists used perspective and foreshortening to produce paintings of courtly life, ascetic renunciation, hunts, battles, and erotic dalliance that rank as some of the greatest masterpieces of art produced by mankind in any century.
Twenty-two years later, in 1866, the great Indian Uprising of 1857 had come and gone, the vengeful British had murdered hundreds of thousands of suspected rebels, the East India Company had been removed from power, and instead Queen Victoria had been proclaimed empress of a now fully colonized India—but Major Gill was still in his beloved caves, hard at work. When he finally sent his painstakingly detailed oil paintings to London for exhibition in 1866 at the Crystal Palace, they were almost immediately destroyed in the fire that engulfed the exhibition center. Tragically, the paintings had not even been photographed. Gill knew what he had to do: with astonishing sangfroid, he packed his bags and returned to the site to begin work again. He died there, still absorbed by his copying, in 1875.