Paterson is often categorised as one of the so-called Glasgow Boys, but his work differed from that of other artists in this group because he created mainly pure landscapes in which figures only ever played minor roles. After studying at Glasgow School of Art and in Paris, Paterson travelled in France and Italy. He enthusiastically encouraged the publication in 1888, of the short-lived journal The Scottish Art Review. He left Glasgow in 1884, and settled in Moniaive, Dumfriesshire with his wife. Paterson continued his long-established friendship with William York MacGregor and finally moved to Edinburgh in 1905, becoming a prominent member of the Royal Scottish Academy.