The World of Yesterday is among the paintings Hjörleifur Sigurðsson started working on in 1963–64. Early in the 1960s the artist left behind the ideology of strict geometric art and Mondrian, which had influenced his art from 1955. As he himself stated in his book Listmálaraþankar (An Artist's Thoughts) (p. 98), his last geometric piece was painted in 1962. In 1966-69 an even more organic and informal approach appeared in Hjörleifur's art, in what has been called his “globoid period”. His works from these years are reminiscent of Jean Fautrier and his series Otages (Hostages). It is as if an irregular globoid shape covers the entire picture plane, or is clearly delineated.
In part Hjörleifur is responding to the changing attitudes in visual arts all over the world that took place in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. For cultural-political reasons, geometric art had slowly lost popularity in face of the demand for greater freedom following the restraint of the postwar years. In art this trend materialised in orthodoxy being replaced by emotional and random art such as is seen in this painting by Hjörleifur.
Underlying meanings can be found in many of Hjörleifur's paintings; for example it can hardly be a coincidence that this painting takes its name from the famous book by Stefan Zweig (original German title Die Welt von Gestern), which is a personal evaluation of the cultural life of Europe from the beginning of the 20th century until World War II. These paintings by Hjörleifur are very different from those of his contemporaries in Icelandic abstract art, because of their organic forms; a microcosmic ecosystem recurs to the mind upon scrutiny of his paintings.