The dramatic rescue from a foundering ship shown here was made possible by a recent innovation in lifesaving technology, the breeches buoy. Secured firmly to ship and shore, the device permitted the transfer of stranded passengers to safety by means of a pulley that was hauled back and forth by crews at either end. Cropped down to its essentials, Homer's composition thrusts us into the midst of the action with massive waves rolling past, drenching the semiconscious woman and her anonymous savior. The Life Line was immediately recognized by critics as a major contribution to American art, portraying a heroic, contemporary subject with both painterly virtuosity and detailed observation.
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