Feininger's extensive work for the mural for the Marine Transportation Building at the New York World's Fair, for which the artist was commissioned in 1938, constituted a turning point for the development of his late production. Having conceived this mural as a summation of his work to date, he was able to reflect upon his creative parabola with an unprecedented lucidity. By the 1940s, he had discovered in his oils the clarity he had been seeking primarily in his watercolours and drawings, in a process of simplification and reduction of both architecture and objects to linear schemes. As Ulrich Luckhardt pointed out: 'The more he pushed the coloured planes into the background and allowed the lines of the drawings to carry the motif, the more he was able to give expression to the dematerialization he wanted. The mural in the World's Fair of 1939 was the formal point of departure for these first pictures in the late painterly graphic style' (Lyonel Feininger, Munich & London, 1989, p. 46).
In the 1940s, Feininger started applying to his oils the compositional principles he had so far experimented with only in his drawings. The colours, which had been conceived as supports for the planar spaces, now took on independent function and meaning. The tonal subtleties gained in importance, becoming the atmospheric fabric with which his late paintings are woven. In The trees, the angular layers of silvers and greens give life and depth to Feininger's imaginary landscape, which seems to dwarf and engulf the small figure, a contextualizing conceit that recalls the empty landscapes of the late 1920s and 1930s. Furthermore, Feininger's sky is beautifully and simplistically constructed with progressively stronger blue chevrons that complement the green planes below and anchor the composition towards the centre of the canvas and the negative space between the banks of trees.
Luckhardt saw the artist's late oeuvre as a visual translation of his memories: '... [His paintings of the 1940s] are dominated by the worlds that Feininger had found and transformed, over and over again, in the thousands of sketches he had drawn after nature, making them the central theme of his work. It is a world of light and space, in which the memories of the slender sailboats on the Baltic, the cloud formations over the dunes, and the architecture of the old towns and villages, with their churches and gabled houses, are always present' (ibid., p. 47).