Inspired by Tudor St George and E. Phillips Fox, Patterson left the Melbourne Art School for Paris in 1898, enrolling at the Académie Julian and later at the Académie Colarossi and Académie Delecluse, where he met his compatriots Hugh Ramsay and J.S. Macdonald. The three shared a studio and painted with G.W. Lambert in Paris. He was initially influenced by Ramsay, but moved to an impressionist style in the 1900s and painted regularly in Brittany. He returned to Australia in 1910 and co-founded the breakaway Australian Art Association, before moving to America in 1917 to continue his career.