The present painting depicts the sea at Bordighera, an Italian fishing village on the Mediterranean coast, about twelve miles east of the French border. Renoir first visited Bordighera in December 1883, during a two-week trip to the Riviera with Claude Monet. In a letter to his dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, Monet referred to Bordighera as "one of the most beautiful places" that he and Renoir saw on their sojourn (quoted in J. Pissarro, Monet and the Mediterranean, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1997, p. 29). Renoir also wrote to Durand-Ruel about the splendor of the region: "We are delighted with our trip. We've seen marvelous things, we'll probably bring back nothing or not much, because we've been mostly on the move, but what a trip! One has to stay much longer to do something. We've seen everything, or just about, between Marseille and Genoa. Everything is superb. Vistas of which you have no idea. This evening the mountains were pink. Saint-Raphaël, Monte Carlo, and Bordighera have virgin stands of pine trees" (quoted in B.E. White, Renoir: His Life, Art, and Letters, New York, 1984, p. 135).
Monet returned to Bordighera shortly after his visit with Renoir, living and working there during the first three months of 1884. Renoir had originally planned to accompany Monet once again, but the latter decided at the last minute to travel alone, explaining to Durand-Ruel, "As fun as it was to play the tourist with Renoir, it would be a real hindrance to my work to take this trip with somebody else. I have always worked far better in solitude" (quoted in J. Pissarro, op. cit., p. 28). Renoir did not return to the Riviera until 1888. He spent the first few weeks of that year with Paul Cézanne at Aix-en-Provence before traveling south to Martigues, a picturesque fishing village on the Mediterranean coast near Marseille. Although Renoir's presence in Bordighera is not explicitly documented at this time, he is known to have contemplated a trip to Antibes to see Monet and may well have returned to some of the towns that the two painters had visited together four years earlier.
With its bold colors and ebullient brushwork, Bordighera demonstrates the profound appeal that the landscape of the Côte d'Azur held for Renoir. In a letter to his friend and patron, Madame Charpentier, Renoir described the "perpetual sunshine" of the South, while to the banker Paul Bérard, he wrote, "What lovely landscapes, with distant horizons and the most beautiful colors. The delicacies of hue are extraordinary, alas, our poor palette can't match up to it" (quoted in J. House, Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 239). The landscapes that Renoir painted en plein air during his travels also provided him with continued inspiration back in his studio. For instance, a brightly colored seascape executed on the island of Guernsey during the autumn of 1883--closely comparable to the present picture in both composition and technique--formed the basis for Renoir's great Baigneuse assise of 1883-1884 (Daulte 490; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge Massachusetts).