Joseph Henderson initially made his living and reputation as a portrait painter, capturing the likenesses of wealthy Scottish gentlemen and ladies. Once he had established himself, he began to diversify as a painter of landscapes, seascapes and house interiors.
Henderson was in part responsible for raising the profile and status of artists in Glasgow and was a member of the Glasgow Art Club (he was President in 1887-8), the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the Royal Academy in London. A contemporary account states that he was ‘frank and genial, with an inexhaustible fund of good spirits and a ready appreciation of humour, of which he himself possesses no small share’.