A 1960 photograph called Girls in the Windows by Ormond Gigli may have unexpectedly become one of the most collected and valuable images in the history of the medium.
According to a fascinating piece by The New York Times, roughly 600 signed and numbered copies of Girls in the Windows have been sold in the last 30 years — at prices that typically range between $15,000 and $30,000.
The photograph is offered for sale at galleries across the world including New York, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Cleveland, Atlanta, Boston, Santa Fe, London, Paris, and Moscow (until the invasion of Ukraine).
Meanwhile, buyers who want to cut out the middleman can also purchase the Girls in the Windows directly from the artist’s estate.
The New York Times reports that the photograph is also a “darling of the auction market” — with over 160 copies of the work offered at Phillips, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and other houses over the years.
In 2017 alone, 13 copies of Girls in the Window were auctioned and instead of deflating the prices, one of them set a record for the image, at $56,906.
Seven pieces of the photograph have been sold at auctions this year, and on Tuesday another one sold at Phillips in London for $38,000 (£30,480) — which was well over the high estimate.
According to the publication, the standard art market rules of supply and demand appear to not apply to Girls in the Windows — and in total, all the copies sold of the photograph approximately add up to a staggering $12,000,000.
“We’ve had discussions about this internally,” Caroline Deck, senior specialist of photographs at Phillips in New York City tells The New York Times.
“It must be the highest-grossing photograph of all time.”
The Story Behind ‘The Highest-Grossing Photograph of All Time’
According to The New York Times, nobody had hired freelance commercial photographer Gigli to create Girls in the Windows in the summer of 1960.
But Gigli wanted to memorialize the brownstone buildings on East 58th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side which stood directly across the street from his home studio — and which were going to be demolished the day after.
Standing on a second-story fire escape, Gigli yelled instructions through a bullhorn while models posed in the window frames in the buildings across from him while wearing a host of colorful gowns. Meanwhile, a pair of women stand on the sidewalk, next to a silver Rolls-Royce, in the glamorous and joyous image.
The demolition supervisor reportedly agreed to let Gigli use the building for two hours during an extended lunch break as long as his wife was featured in the photograph. She poses on the third floor of the building, in the window third from the left.
How The Image Became a Sales Phenomenon
According to The New York Times, Gigli produced, printed, and signed hundreds of copies of Girls in the Windows in a variety of sizes and on a variety of photographic papers starting from around 2010 until he died in 2019. The photographer did this at the behest of his now 63-year-old son Ogden.
Ogden, a photographer who now runs his father’s estate, reportedly masterminded the unique sales strategy that turned the image into a phenomenon.
Typically, fine art photographers sell five or six copies of an image in one or two sizes and scarcity is intended to drive interest and sustain prices. But Girls in the Windows has been printed in 12 different sizes. And in each size, Gigli created dozens of photographs.
For instance, there are 75 copies of the 50-inch square edition and 44 copies of the 27-inch square edition.
Gigli’s son Ogden says he has about 100 copies of Girls in the Windows left, including black-and-white copies that he describes as so stunning he’s a little reluctant to part with them. However, one day, they will go up for sale too.
“The reason it’s successful is that there is product for people to own,” Ogden tells The New York Times.
“And they’re not worried that there are hundreds out there. They’re thinking that $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 isn’t a lot for one of the world’s best images.”
Auction houses regularly contact Ogden and ask Girls in the Windows — as London auction house Phillips did a few weeks ago.
“Departments do have to hit their numbers,” Joshua Holdeman, head of the Hammond Group, an art advisory firm, who has worked at all three of the major auction houses, tells the publication.
“And if they know it’s an easy sale and it’s going to sell at a certain price, it’s like, totally easy money.”
Image credits: All photos by Ormond Gigli.