In 1887, when he was 16 years old, Lyonel Feininger left his birthplace in New York City to study music in Germany. Within a year, however, he decided to become an artist. He studied at the Berlin Academy and in a life class in Paris and started his artistic career as a notable cartoonist in Berlin. It was not long until Feininger was caught up in the emerging modern style of art. In 1911, he exhibited with the Cubists and other early modernists in their first public show at the Salon des Indepéndants. Over the next decade he exhibited with Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, the Blaue Reiter and other groups of revolutionary artist and poets.
While teaching at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, Feininger traveled to the city of Deep, on the Baltic Sea. Western Sea most likely depicts this seaside location. At Deep, Feininger studied light and color and applied the findings to his work. His background in cartooning resulted in a heavy emphasis on line that was probably achieved with a ruler. The translucent geometric shapes of Western Sea represent the meeting of flat planes that shape the boats, waves and beams of sunlight.