Brother to Waller Hugh Paton, Sir Joseph Noel studied at the RA schools where he met Millais, who became a life long friend. Possibly influenced by his father, a collector of ancient Scottish armour and engravings and plaster casts from classical sculpture, and who was interested in Blake and Swedenborgian mysticism, Paton developed a range of interests that included literature, allegorical themes and spiritual concepts. Possibly his best known works are his fairy paintings, such as The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847). He was also interested in legends and produced illustrations for S.C. Hall's Book of British Ballads.
He met Ruskin through Millais and though he was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, his style remained fundamentally idiosyncratic. The two Paton brother painted side by side on Arran in 1854, 1855 and around Loch Lomond in 1858. By 1870 he returned to religious painting, often using an elaborate allegorical symbolism.