After Homer's return to America in 1883, the sea became the dominant theme in his work. He moved to Prouts Neck, a fishing village on the bleak, desolate coast of Maine. He traveled extensively but always returned to his Prouts Neck studio to convert his sketches into major paintings. Solitude became for Homer not simply a preference but an absolute necessity, as he turned his mind and his art to subjects dealing with man's fate in confronting the elemental forces of nature.
In the summer of 1883 Homer saw a demonstration in Atlantic City of the use of a breeches buoy for rescue from the sea. The following year he painted his large, impressive, and immediately popular painting The Life Line (1884), one of several he did at this time on the rescue theme, depicting the dramatic transfer of an unconscious woman from a wrecked ship to shore.
The Life Line draws on the traditional shipwreck scenario - mountainous waves, wind and spray, a helpless vessel, and a desperate human struggle - with an original, modern perspective. A small group of prints and paintings made by Homer after 1884 continues his themes of anxiety, struggle, and stoicism in the face of tragedy. Such human narratives receded as more abstract themes of elemental conflict--land, sea, and sky--dominated the last two decades of the artist's career.