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Visual interpretation of "The ladder of fortune" (1875) - Referat

The Ladder of Fortune (1875)

The visual with the title „The ladder of fortune” from Roland Marchand’s collection, is an art print published in 1875 by Currier & Ives, a print office in New York. It presents an allegory, in which a ladder leads to the fruits of good life.

The picture is divided into three segments, the background and the left and right side of the foreground, whereas the main action occurs in the front. You can see a tree in the centre on which a ladder is leaned on. Each rung represents a virtue: industry, temperance, integrity, economy, punctuality, courage, perseverance, morality and honesty. In the treetop are fruits which represent influence, honor, contentment, happiness, self-respect, a good conscience, a long life, riches, good will of men, and the favor of God. At the base of the tree are participants pictured: on the left side, a family of high status, whereas the father is pointing at the fruits and is teaching his son the moral of life, and on the right side, a merchant, a farmer and a carpenter, who is willing to climb the ladder (of fortune). In the background, slightly out of focus, lurks temptation in it’s many appearances: the policy, the lottery, a strike, people gambling, the stock exchange and people betting on a horse-race.

The artist uses strong, vivid and intense colors for the foreground, while the background is blurry and printed in pale, soft colors, which leads to a marked contrast between the main action and the background. We also have a sharp contarst between the green of the leaves and the red of the fruits, which causes an “eye-catching effect”.

The artist succeeds in catching the viewer’s attention by forcing unconsciously the viewer to take a closer look at the visual. By writing virtues and qualities on the rungs and on the fruits the artist awakes the observer’s curiosity and provokes him to reflect on this combination.
The visual as a whole refers to the “American Dream”, meaning
to climb the ladder of fortune by one’s abilities from an unimportant, ordinary person in society to a well-known, successful personality, also meaning to have an equal opportunity of getting rich.
This art print visualizes the steps to success, e.g.: industry and morality bring solid rewards, such as honor, contentment and self-respect, while influencing sins, such as the lottery and bets lurk from behind and bring poverty and ruin.

My first reaction to the picture was a certain cluelessness and a excessive demand, but afterwards, as I said before, the picture captured my full attention and I had the strong will to understand the artist’s message. Now, after observing and analysing the visual, I absolutely agree with the definition of success given. It gives us a clear notion of the original morality behind the “American Dream” as the vast continent America offered enormous possibilities,
not only for skilled, also for those who had such values.

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