Despite its noncommittal title, the picture is one of the finest and most monumental of North's Algerian subjects. He had visited the area in 1873 with his friend and fellow artist Fred Walker, hoping that the warm climate would benefit Walker's delicate health. They arrived on Christmas Day 'in ecstasies over the flowers and fruitful greenness of the land'. By 25 February 1874 Walker, homesick and no better, was on his way home, but North remained, buying a plot of land and building himself a house which he called 'Dar el Ouard', or 'House of the Roses'. He was to spend several months there annually for the next six years, and many of his paintings from this period have Algerian themes.
North thought of himself as a watercolour painter, and his works in oil are comparatively rare. Even in them, we are told, his aim was 'to get as near as possible to the effect of watercolour, which he considered a less encumbered means of expression. Having prepared his canvas with a ground of Chinese white, he rubbed in with warm colour the masses of his composition, then with a very liquid medium of his own (invention) called "papoma" he washed in the sky and gave atmosphere to his forms with powder colours, finally glazing the full passages as though he were enamelling'.
The Grass of the Field was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1880. It was North's first appearance on the walls of this glamorous rival to the Royal Academy, launched four years earlier with great éclat and generally perceived as a showcase for all that was most adventurous in contemporary British art. North showed two works that year, both oils and both Algerian subjects. The other was Algerine [sic] Afternoon, a much smaller work that was sold in these Rooms as part of the Fuller Collection on 7 April 2000, lot 56.
The Grass of the Field received a long review in the Times. The writer admired the way the artist had treated 'not only the carpet of wild flowers with which Spring covers the soil of Algiers, but the tangled growth of flowering or berried shrubs, with blue-green ranks of alloe spikes and cactus growths, all forming the framework for glimpses of blue and sunny sea and white-walled dwellings'.