Son of the sculptor Antoine Pater, he was born on 29 December 1695 in Valenciennes, where from 1706 he studied under Jean-Baptiste Guidé In c. 1710/173 he went to Paris where for a brief period his fellow townsman Watteau was his teacher. Pater was back in Valenciennes 1716-1718, where he is documented in dispute with the local Corporation de Saint-Luc over his right to practise as a professional painter. He returned to Paris in 1718. For a month in 1721 he was again taught by Watteau, then fatally ill. Agréé in 1725, Pater was reçu as a painter of fêtes galantes in 1728 when he submitted the "Réjouissances de soldats" (Louvre) which remains one of very few datable works. By 1729 he was living in the rue Quincampoix where he died on 25 July 1736.
Pater was Watteau's only documented pupil and at the beginning of his career one of his direct followers. He became one of the main painters of Fêtes galantes after Watteau's death. His main contribution to the genre was the new subject of bathers that he integrated into the Fête galante. He also added more openly narrative elements. Pater was one of the great illustrators of the period (e. g. for Scarron's Roman comique).
Pater produced a sizable work that was later obscured by numerous copies and variations produced mainly after his death. The outstanding importance of his teacher Watteau has always obscured his own great qualities as a painter. Very few works are dated, and a chronology of his work has only recently been established.